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of Polity and Practice 






Copyright © 1965 

The Judson Press 
Valley Forge, Pa. 

All rights in this book are reserved. No part of the text may be re- 
produced in any manner without permission in writing from the pub- 
lisher, except in the case of brief quotations included in a review of the 
book in a magazine or newspaper. 

The Bible quotations in this book are in accordance with the Revised 
Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1946 and 1952 by the Division 
of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ 
in the United States of America, and are used by permission. 

Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 65-18356 




Foreword 5 

I. Foundations of Baptist Politv 7 

II. Church Membership: Qualifications and 

Responsibilities 26 

III. The Baptist Ministry 46 

IV. Other Officers of the Local Church 67 

V. Baptism and the Lord's Supper 83 

VI. The Baptist Association 105 

VII. State and National Conventions 119 

VIII. Ecumenical Relationships 141 

For Further Reading 158 

Index 159 


Many Baptists have long felt the need for a new Baptist 
"manual" that would bring together traditional Baptist posi- 
tions and practices and the modifications adopted over the 
years by Baptists in local churches and in larger groupings. 
. . . The General Council of the American Baptist Convention 
several years ago initiated procedures which, it was hoped, 
would result in the production of a manual such as the one 
here presented. . . . Although it would be released only after 
having the constructive criticism of many groups and knowl- 
edgeable individuals, it would have to stand basically as the 
work of its authors themselves. ... I commend this book to 
the thoughtful reading of all who would like to become more 
familiar with the people called "Baptists." Those responsible 
for leadership in local churches, associations, and wider levels 
of organized witness and outreach will find this stimulating 
and provocative. 

With these hopeful words, Dr. Edwin H. Tuller, general 
secretary of the American Baptist Convention, launched the 
book known as A Baptist Manual of Polity and Practice, by 
Norman H. Maring and Winthrop S. Hudson. His optimism has 
been justified. The book has been received with great interest 
and appreciation by Baptists of manv backgrounds, and is 
rapidly becoming established as authoritative in its field. 

There has been increasingly evident, however, a need for a 
briefer and less expensive edition which might be used by 
laymen in the church. For this reason, A Short Baptist Manual 
of Polity and Practice has been prepared. In it the first four 


chapters of the original book are condensed into one, and the 
appendices are omitted, retaining the old chapters V through 
XI, which now become II through VIII. The original volume 
still remains the best source for those who would understand 
the historical and biblical basis from which Baptist polity is 

Like its more comprehensive predecessor, A Short Baptist 
Manual is by no means an "official" statement by the American 
Baptist Convention or any other Baptist body, and is not bind- 
ing on the churches in any way. Because of its inherent worth, 
however, this new book is expected to find wide acceptance. 

Frank T. Hoadley 

Book Editor, The Judson Press 


Foundations of Baptist Polity 

The term "church polity" signifies the organizational form 
by which the church of Jesus Christ fulfills its mission. As a 
people whom God has called to bear his witness in the world, 
the church needs appropriate means for doing God's will. Both 
for its internal life of worship and teaching and for its ministry 
to the world, the church must have regular structures through 
which to accomplish its purpose. 

Before deciding upon an appropriate form of polity, one 
needs some kind of standards by which to judge the various 
possible forms. In order to determine how the churches are to 
do their work, we first must understand what the church is and 
why it exists. As practical people, we tend to dismiss the latter 
kind of question as "mere theory," and are often impatient to 
get on with more practical concerns. Such basic questions can- 
not be neglected, however, for unless we are clear about the 
nature and purpose of the church we will have no criteria for 
measuring the suitabilitv of organizational patterns. Concen- 
tration upon programs, without due attention to purposes, may 
result in churches which succeed by human standards but fail 
in God's sight. 

It would be natural to ask, "Why don't we just copy the 
organizational pattern of New Testament churches?" The prob- 
lem is that the Scriptures do not furnish us with a clear and 



uniform picture of church organization. Jesus devoted his time 
to announcing and describing the kingdom of God, inviting 
men to enter it and accept God's kingly rule. To his immediate 
disciples and those who would come afterwards (who were to 
be known as the church ) , Christ entrusted the proclamation of 
the kingdom of God, and he allowed them to develop suitable 
methods by which the kingdom might be more fully realized. 
Thus, the early churches adopted methods of organization to 
fit their needs, but no fully developed pattern emerged in the 
New Testament era. The Bible offers us some guidelines for 
framing a polity, but it leaves room for some flexibility with 
regard to methods and organization. Responsibility is given to 
us to determine which organizational patterns best express the 
nature and mission of the church. 

Since the Bible allows so much freedom, Christians have 
developed various types of polity over the years. These are 
represented in the major denominational traditions. In large 
measure, it was over questions of polity that the Baptists came 
into existence in the seventeenth century. Having firm convic- 
tions with regard to the way in which visible churches should 
be ordered, they embodied their ideas in practices which we 
retain today. 

Therefore, even though we may be impatient with theory, 
we cannot afford to neglect the Bible, church history, and 
theology, when we discuss church polity. To determine meth- 
ods and organizational forms without keeping in mind funda- 
mental questions of purpose will eventually lead to our losing 
a clear sense of identity. Indeed, many American Protestants 
already suffer today from confusion about their nature and 
purpose, because they have minimized theological thinking 
about who they are and what they are to do. 


In seeking the Baptist understanding of church polity, it is 
instructive to recall Baptist beginnings. Because of the great 
numbers and the diversity of modern Baptists, it is difficult to 


ascertain their common mind upon any particular subject. If 
one turns back to their historical roots, however, he can see 
that their views of the church and its shape in the world were 
prominent factors in their becoming a distinct denomination. 
Therefore a review of their original principles will shed light 
upon their doctrine of the church and their views of church 

Baptists emerged in the early seventeenth century out of 
the general Puritan-Congregational wing of English Protestant- 
ism. Although they held convictions which led them to become 
a separate denominational group, Baptists were not sectarian 
in spirit, for they recognized themselves as part of the wider 
fellowship which is the body of Christ. In most doctrines, they 
were in accord with Protestants of the Reformed ( Calvinistic ) 
tradition, and even on the doctrine of the church they shared 
broad areas of agreement. They agreed, for example, that there 
is one universal church, of which every particular congregation 
is a local expression. That church, they held, is called to be a 
close-knit fellowship whose mission is to worship, teach, evan- 
gelize, and serve. 

The problem for all Christians has been to know how that 
church, which is "one, holy, and catholic," is related to the 
actual churches which we know, which are so divided and 
sinful. On this question Christians have disagreed. In the 
seventeenth century many talked of an "invisible" and a 
"visible" church. The former, many Protestants reasoned, is 
known only to God, and since we cannot know for sure who are 
the members of that true church, we may as well expect all 
men to belong to the visible church. In that way, all men 
would be exposed to the means of grace, preaching, and the 
sacraments, and through these means God would separate the 
wheat from the tares in his own good time. Accordingly, in 
every country, parents were required by law to have their 
children baptized, and thus all citizens of a given nation were 
also church members. For centuries, almost everyone in 
Europe had been convinced that the entire population must 


belong to the church, and also that in each state there could 
be only a single denomination. 

It was against this background that Baptists are to be under- 
stood. They challenged the idea that church membership 
should include the entire population. Following the lead of 
Congregationalists, the Baptists held that membership in 
visible churches should be limited to committed Christians, 
persons who belonged to the universal church. To use their 
words, "Visible churches are composed of visible saints." 
Hence, they expected each candidate to testify before the con- 
gregation to God's work of grace in his life. Only those who 
could give a convincing testimony were baptized. Although it 
was not always easy to distinguish a genuine conversion from 
a spurious one, they believed that the Holy Spirit helped them 
to make "a judgment of charity." Thus, believers' baptism sup- 
planted infant baptism. 

In order to maintain their character as regenerate (or 
"gathered") churches, they not only safeguarded the entrance 
to membership but maintained a continuous discipline. At the 
time a church was constituted, a covenant was usually adopted, 
which stated the general obligations of church membership. 
All who joined the church were expected to subscribe the 
covenant, whereby they submitted themselves to one another 
for mutual encouragement and watchcare. Every member was 
expected to participate in services of worship as well as in the 
church meetings, and failure to do so constituted a violation 
of the covenant. 

Discipline involved doctrinal matters and daily behavior. 
Although Baptists valued freedom of conscience, they were not 
permissive with regard to doctrinal issues. They feared thei 
kind of subjectivism and individualism which many Quaker: 
had exhibited in their dependence upon the "inner light.' 
Through a regularly ordained ministry, confessions of faith 
catechisms, and orderly procedures, Baptists sought safeguards 
against excessive individualism. Hence, doctrinal deviation 
immoral conduct, and scandalous behavior were subject to dis 


ciplinary action. Only in this way, they were convinced, could 
visible churches have anv correspondence to the church of 
Christ as God had intended her to be. 

Every congregation, the Baptists taught, had power from 
Christ to call its own minister, to admit and dismiss members, 
and to conduct its own affairs. Gathering together for worship 
and conduct of business, a congregation of Christians was to 
seek the mind of Christ. Such a church, they believed, would 
be led by the Holy Spirit to discern God's will. Authority for 
making decisions about its own concerns was thus located in 
each particular church, and every member shared in the pro- 
cess of decision-making. In order to be free to seek and to carry 
out God's will, said the Baptists, churches should be free from 
outside interference, whether by ecclesiastical officials or by 
civil rulers. 

While the importance of the local church was clearly recog- 
nized, the independence of each church was balanced by a 
consciousness of interdependence. The Baptists acknowledge 
that no church exists by itself, but each congregation is an 
outcropping of the larger church of Jesus Christ. Therefore, 
early confessions of faith affirmed that a local church had 
responsibility to associate with other churches for mutual edifi- 
cation and assistance. For this reason, Baptists early formed 
associations, and for many years these served significant pur- 
poses. While such associations could not dictate to a church, 
churches meeting together by their delegates could make 
decisions which represented the corporate will of the churches. 

In summary, then, it may be said that the particular 
emphases of Baptists centered upon their answer to the ques- 
tion: Where and how does the church of Christ take on visible 
form? Through the means described above, they sought to 
establish visible churches which could express God's purpose 
for his church. When Baptists originated, their views were con- 
sidered revolutionary and unworkable, but they have found in 
their polity values which outweigh its weaknesses. 

It is obvious that in some ways Baptists have undergone 


changes in practice since their early days. In general, however, 
the principles which then governed their polity underlie our 
practices today. Fundamental to this organizational pattern is 
the conception of the local congregation. 


There is a mistaken notion that any "two or three" gathered 
together in Christ's name constitute a church. To be sure, 
Christ has promised to be present in the midst of such a gather- 
ing, but they do not thereby become a church. In Baptist 
tradition, people become a church only when their common 
life has been ordered so that they may act responsibly in 
his name. 

Upon the basis of Baptist principles and practice, the follow- 
ing elements may be regarded as essential to the form of a 
local church: (1) The plan for church membership indicates 
that only such persons as have been baptized upon a profession 
of repentance and faith will be admitted. (2) Those who have 
been thus baptized then covenant with God and one another, 
agreeing to walk together in fellowship and to obey Christ 
as he makes his will known to them. (3) Having made provi- 
sion for the ministry of the Word and the administration of 
baptism and the Lord's Supper, they are (with the aid of other 
churches) duly constituted a church. (4) A pastor and other 
officers are chosen by the congregation. (5) Besides the serv- 
ices of worship and the church meeting, there are provisions 
for instruction and nurture whereby members are prepared for 
their Christian witness. Finally, (6) in recognition that no 
church exists in isolation, they unite with other churches for 
mutual counsel and aid and to share, wherever possible, in 
common undertakings. 

A church which has been thus ordered is ready to fulfill its 
vocation, and all of its members share in its mutual ministry. 
Each member participates not only in the work and worship, 
but also in making decisions which affect the common life of all 
the members. Therefore, in a sense the church may be called 


a democracy, and it should use democratic procedures. In a 
strict sense, however, Christ is the Lord of the church and the 
members are his subjects. Thus, a church is a monarchy, and 
the duty of members is to render obedience to him. 

When Baptists, therefore, advocated a congregational form 
of church government, they did not do so because it offered a 
convenient way to make decisions. They believed that a con- 
gregation of committed and informed Christians, led by the 
Holy Spirit, could be "a sensitive and delicate instrument" for 
seeking out the will of God. They did not consider congrega- 
tional decisions infallible in declaring God's will. They 
believed that full participation of the members would provide 
a check against the common tendencies to self-interest and the 
limitations of human knowledge. 


Among the Baptists, therefore, the church meeting has occu- 
pied a place of great importance. It has been the means by 
which God's will has been humbly sought and Christ's rule 
acknowledged. While certain executive responsibilities are 
assigned to the pastor, deacons, and other officers, the church 
has insisted that the entire membership is responsible to 
discuss, debate, and decide matters of basic concern to the 
life of the church. The church could not delegate its funda- 
mental powers to boards and committees. Boards and com- 
mittees may bring in recommendations, but decisions on policy 
matters belong to the church. 

A distressing feature of contemporary church life has been 
the decay of the church meeting. There are several reasons for 
this decline, among which is the delegation of powers to small 
groups or individuals through simple default of members who 
are unwilling to accept their responsibilities. Even more 
responsible for the decay of the church meeting has been a 
mistaken understanding of the matters to be brought before it. 
Too often it has concerned itself with minor details of institu- 
tional life. Questions of spiritual, moral, and social significance 


in the life of the church and its members have been left to 
private reflection and decision rather than group action. 

The proper concerns of the church meeting may roughly be 
divided into two categories: (1) the relating of worship to 
the internal life of the church, and ( 2 ) the relating of worship 
to the concerns of the members in their day-to-day life in 
the world. 

With regard to the internal life of the church, the church 
meeting finds its focus in terms of the church's vocation. This 
involves a continuing discussion of the theological issues im- 
plicit in the church's confession. As issues are clarified, the 
church meeting must spell out their implications for all facets 
of the church's life. What these implications are for the 
reception, nurture, oversight, and dismissal of members must 
be carefully considered. Programs of evangelism must be 
reviewed to make certain they do not inadvertently distort or 
misinterpret the witness of the church. The relationship of 
children to the church must be determined, and careful atten- 
tion must be given to the content of the instruction they re- 
ceive. The structure of the services of public worship must be 
examined so that they may have both theological integrity 
and clarity of meaning. 

Of equal concern to the church meeting are the issues con- 
fronted by the members in their daily life. The worship of 
God is the service of God, and it is not restricted to cultic 
acts. The church moves out into the world in the lives of its 
members, and God is worshiped through their obedience to 
him in their day-to-day activities and decisions. Because few 
of the issues they face— whether in the home, the office, the 
factory, the voting booth, or the legislative assembly— are trans- 
parently clear in terms of Christian duty, the members often 
desperately need the guidance and support of the corporate 
conscience of the church. It is within the context of the dis- 
cussions of the church meeting that the implications of a 
Christian's obedience are clarified and a corporate conscience 
on specific issues is formed. 


The Essential Features of a Church Meeting 

The purpose of the church meeting is not to reach agreement 
among people of differing points of view. Its objective is not 
a sharing of personal opinions and individual preferences in 
order to reach a decision acceptable to all. The church meet- 
ing represents an earnest endeavor to ascertain the mind of 
Christ and thus the will of God for his people. To this end, 
there are several essential prerequisites to a properly consti- 
tuted church meeting. 

First of all, the church meeting presupposes a prepared peo- 
ple. It is not an indiscriminate gathering; it is an assembly of 
those who have made a profession of faith, have given some 
evidence of the sincerity of their profession, and have become 
members of the church. Nor should those who compose the 
meeting be merely nominal church members. If they are to 
participate in determining the affairs and witness of the church, 
they must avail themselves of the ordinary means of grace by 
attending the stated services of the church. They must allow 
themselves to be instructed by the preaching of the Word 
and to be nourished and strengthened by the fellowship of the 
Lord's Table. The mind of Christ is scarcely to be known by 
those who habitually neglect the disciplines which he ap- 
pointed for his followers. 

In the second place, the church meeting presupposes a hum- 
ble waiting upon the leading of the Spirit. The guidance of the 
Spirit is invoked through prayer; the Scriptures are searched to 
discern whether or not the apparent guidance of the Spirit 
is truly of Christ; and attention is given to the voice of the 
church in the past as it has sought to understand and interpret 
the Scriptures. 

In the third place, the church meeting presupposes full par- 
ticipation by the members of the church. It is the inquiry of 
the whole congregation as to the mind of Christ with regard to 
a specific issue. If only a minority of the membership is in- 
volved in making decisions, the congregational theory and its 
values are being denied in practice. 


Since a congregational polity presupposes the full partici- 
pation of members, and since a large congregation makes such 
involvement difficult, it is natural to ask whether the size of 
churches should be limited. How large can a church be and 
still be a church? The typical Baptist church today is larger 
than it was fifty years ago, its membership is more scattered, 
and work schedules of members are not uniform. To the diffi- 
culties of finding a time when all can meet is added the fact 
that effective deliberation becomes almost impossible when 
several hundred people meet together. We are confronted with 
the possibility that churches will become loose-knit associations 
of people whose sense of fellowship and involvement are min- 
imal and who are poorly informed Christians. 

Should churches be smaller? A realistic view of the situation 
does not allow room for expecting such a change, for a small 
church is usually handicapped by inadequate facilities, insuffi- 
cient leadership, and a curtailed program. On the other hand, 
it must be noted that size alone does not determine such mat- 
ters, for there are small churches where members do not par- 
ticipate fully and there are fairly large ones which find ways 
to overcome the handicaps of bigness. There is undoubtedly 
a point at which a church can gain nothing in effectiveness by 
increasing its size, and it should then give birth to another 
church. That point will differ with each situation, however, 
and each congregation must seek the mind of Christ as it relates 
to their own situation. 

More important than an attempt to govern the size of 
churches is an emphasis upon making our larger churches more 
vital. Circumstances require that new means be devised for 
involving the whole membership in other ways than by the 
single, town-meeting type of assembly. In a situation where 
the entire congregation cannot meet at one time, there could be 
a modification of the church-meeting plan. Smaller groups can 
provide the experience of fellowship and the opportunity for 
thorough discussion of pertinent issues by which an informed 
and disciplined membership is developed. Good channels of 


communication can be established by which these smaller 
groups are kept related to the entire church. After such groups 
have considered matters of common concern, a larger represen- 
tative church meeting may be better prepared to seek further 
light on such questions. Since the authority to arrive at deci- 
sions in policy matters and on significant issues should be kept 
in the hands of the congregation, an effort should be made to 
get as many members as possible to participate in the final, all- 
church stage of such church meetings. If the spirit and values 
of the congregational system are to be preserved, we must find 
ways such as these to foster Christian fellowship, to involve in- 
dividual members in worship, study, and decisions of the 
church, and to prepare members to make informed Christian 
judgments in personal and social issues. 

Lastly, the church meeting should be characterized by a 
readiness to listen on the part of its members. Each member, 
by virtue of his common priesthood, has the right to be heard, 
but he must also be prepared to listen, to learn, and to be in- 
structed. Waiting on the guidance of the Spirit often means 
listening to others, for it is through them that the Spirit may 

Time and Frequency of Church Meetings 

Except for the annual meeting, some churches have become 
accustomed to hold church meetings only intermittently and 
then only to settle a routine matter in the life of the church. 
This is unfortunate, for a church can have no common life — 
indeed, can scarcely be a church— unless church meetings are 
held with regularity and at frequent intervals. 

Past experience would indicate that a monthly church meet- 
ing is most desirable, and it has most commonly been held on 
a week night. A basic requirement is that ample time be pro- 
vided for the meeting so that discussion need not be hurried 
and the temptation to reach hasty decisions may be avoided. 
Some churches have found that a church dinner preceding 
the church meeting has the twofold value of providing added 


time and of creating a family atmosphere as a context for the 
meeting. Other churches have been experimenting with a re- 
turn to an older pattern by having a dinner at the church once 
a month following the Sunday morning worship, and then hold- 
ing the church meeting in the afternoon. This procedure 
has two distinct advantages. It places the church meeting 
within the context of the common worship of the church, 
and it provides an opportunity for the pastor in the sermon 
to provide instruction with reference to the questions to be 
discussed in the church meeting. The church meeting may deal 
with a particular theological point that needs to be clarified in 
terms of the witness of the church; it may consider the church's 
missionary obligation in some specific fashion; it may discuss 
some moral issue facing the community in order to provide 
guidance for the members. But whatever the subject to be con- 
sidered by the church meeting, it is highly desirable that the 
discussion should be informed by whatever fight the pastor can 
bring to bear upon it from his understanding of God's Word 
to his people. 


In a congregational polity the vitality of a church depends 
to a large extent upon the church meeting. Therefore, Baptists 
in the past were careful to define certain procedures necessary 
to a properly constituted church meeting. The intention was 
to make it as clear as possible that the entire congregation was 
engaged in seeking the mind of Christ. 

1. There must be a competent moderator. In the past, Bap- 
tists almost always have held that the pastor should be the 
moderator. They spoke of his "presidential authority," by 
which they meant his right to preside at all meetings of the 
church. Occasionally, it was regarded as wise that someone 
else serve in such a capacity, but only in exceptional circum- 

The reason for such a requirement was that it seemed neces- 
sarily related to the pastoral office. The pastor had been chosen 


to be the leader of God's people in a particular church, the 
shepherd of the flock; and to permit someone else to preside 
might obscure the pastoral image. Furthermore, the pastor 
was the expert interpreter of the Scriptures, and as chairman 
he could give the competent theological guidance needed in 
the determination of affairs. 

Today, many feel that it is more appropriate to select some- 
one else from the congregation to preside at such meetings. The 
arguments to support such an arrangement are twofold. In the 
first place, such service enables laymen to be more involved in 
the life of the church. These responsibilities can be assumed by 
someone who has gifts of leadership, but does not have the 
specialized training which would make him an authority in 
theological matters. Thereby the pastor is freed from some of 
the administrative chores which interfere with his other duties. 
Also he is actually free to take a more active part in the meeting 
than if he were the chairman. Ordinarily the presiding officer 
does not have liberty to participate in the discussions, and thus 
the pastor who does not preside can make a larger contribution 
to the meeting. In the role of a resource person, he can give 
a kind of leadership which is better adapted than that of mod- 
erator to developing an informed and working church. 

Individual churches, therefore, will do well to weigh the 
foregoing arguments for and against the pastor's serving as 
moderator, and make a decision based on their own local 

2. An orderly procedure should be followed. The meeting 
should be opened with a prayer invoking God's presence and 
the guidance of his Spirit in all deliberations. The minutes of 
the previous meeting should be read and approved. Routine 
business should be quickly dispatched so that a discussion of 
such matters is not unduly prolonged. The major matters to 
be considered by the meeting should then be clearly stated, 
so that there may be a proper division of time allotted to each. 
The meeting should be closed with prayer, asking God's bless- 
ing upon the decisions that have been reached. 


3. All must he heard. The church meeting is an inquiry by 
the entire church and the possibility must always be kept in 
mind that the Spirit may speak through the humblest of the 
brethren. The more articulate and self-assertive should not 
be allowed to monopolize the discussion to the exclusion of 
others. Each person, therefore, must be given full opportunity 
to speak, and the words of each person should be carefully 

4. Unanimity should he sought. The principle of unanimity 
has been important in congregational theory, for the church 
is not a political organization which can be satisfied with a 
mere majority vote. The objective of the church meeting is 
not to win a vote, but rather to discern the mind of Christ. 
When a decision is not concurred in by the whole church, the 
mind of Christ has evidently not been made clear. Such a 
decision would have dubious spiritual authority. The difficulty 
of involving a large number of people in a deliberative process 
leads to the temptation to delegate all important decisions to 
small committees or boards. In matters of basic policy which 
affect the church as a whole, however, every effort should be 
made to find time to reach a clear consensus before a decision 
is made. 

5. Dividing the church should he avoided. A primary obliga- 
tion resting upon the church is to "maintain unity in the bond 
of peace." If a mere majority decision cannot be made unani- 
mous, it is usually preferable to delay the decision, rather than 
run the risk of dividing the church. Occasionally a church may 
feel that it must make a decision before it reaches a common 
mind and before it can win unanimous consent, but under 
such circumstances no action should be taken which cannot 
command at least a two-thirds affirmative vote. Even then 
the action can be taken only with grave misgivings and regret. 
Furthermore, if such action threatens seriously to divide the 
church, then the decision should be postponed until the 
counsel and advice of the association or state convention has 
been obtained. 



6. Counsel and advice should be sought. It has been the 
custom of Baptists when confronted by perplexities to address 
inquiries to the association or state convention in order to 
secure counsel and advice. In response to such inquiries, either 
the matter is discussed and the requested advice given, or a 
committee is appointed to counsel with the church. Usually 
the inquiries represent merely a desire for further light con- 
cerning matters in which the church is able to discover no 
clear guidance. In such situations, the seeking of counsel and 
advice is purely permissive. But in those situations which 
threaten to divide the church, no action should be taken until 
counsel and advice has been sought and an opportunity has 
been provided for representatives of the association or state 
convention to endeavor to effect a reconciliation between the 
two opposing factions. 


The right to form themselves into a church resides in any 
company of Christians, and this is a right which cannot be 
abrogated without restricting God's own freedom to call forth 
a faithful and obedient people. Baptists traditionally have 
thought of churches as coming into being in three stages. The 
intention to be a church must be present, and this intention 
finds formal expression in a covenant with God and with one 
another. This constitutes a church essential. When a constitu- 
tion for the orderly government of the church has been adopted 
and officers have been chosen, they become a church com- 
pleted. Then, having petitioned the Baptist association in the 
area for admission and having been welcomed into its member- 
ship, they become a church recognized. 

Such a local church comes into existence in a variety of ways. 
Sometimes a convention or associational missionary gathers 
the group that is to be formed into a church; sometimes a 
church emerges from a mission outpost of another local church; 
sometimes an individual Christian will take the initiative. Al- 
though those to be formed into a church may be gathered in 


different ways, there is an orderly procedure which should be 
followed by Baptists in the actual formation of a church. 

1. The counsel and advice of the association or the state 
convention should be sought at the outset, and a request should 
be made to either of these two bodies that a person, preferably 
a neighboring minister, be appointed to serve as convener and 
moderator of their meetings. 

2. The sponsorship of a neighboring church, willing to dis- 
miss a group of its members to form a nucleus of trained 
leadership for the proposed church, should be sought. 

3. Those who propose to organize the new church should 
then, under the leadership of the appointed moderator, be 
formed into a conference, so that they may meet together in 
orderly fashion in advance of the actual organization of the 
church. They shall seek to ascertain their common understand- 
ing of the Christian faith and of the nature and mission of the 
church, and they shall proceed to the consideration of a pro- 
posed church covenant and constitution. During this period, 
the members of the conference should meet together for com- 
mon worship and should make interim provision for a Sunday 

4. The proposed covenant and constitution should be sub- 
mitted to the association or state convention for counsel and 
advice, and the services of a lawyer should be secured to make 
certain that there will be full compliance with the require- 
ments of state laws relating to religious corporations. 

5. Arrangements should then be made to baptize those new 
converts who purpose to become members of the new church, 
and to secure letters of dismission from other churches for 
those proposed members who are entitled to such letters. A 
committee should be appointed to examine, with the assistance 
of the person appointed to act as convener or moderator, both 
the letters and the candidates. These procedures will normally 
take several months. 

6. When preparations have been carefully made, all who 
purpose to become members of the new church should be in- 


vited to attend a meeting specially convened for the purpose 
of its formation. After prayer invoking God's presence, the 
covenant previously agreed upon shall be read and accepted 
by a show of hands. Those accepting it shall then proceed 
to sign their names to it, thus forming a church essential. The 
moderator shall then ask the guidance of the Holy Spirit in 
their further deliberations. A constitution for the orderly gov- 
ernment of the church shall then be adopted, and the officers 
of the church— including a pastor and deacons— shall be elected, 
thus constituting a church completed. The meeting shall be 
closed with prayers invoking God's blessing upon the church. 

7. The newly constituted church shall then petition the local 
Baptist association for admission into its membership. Upon 
favorable action by the association, the church becomes a 
church recognized, in full and regular standing. It is desirable 
that there shall be a service of recognition, at which the 
church shall be formally welcomed into the fellowship of the 

The local church, then, is the visible expression of the 
church of Christ in a given locality. Acknowledging Jesus 
Christ as its head, it defines its powers and procedures in keep- 
ing with this relationship to Christ. Crucial to its life is a 
continuing attempt to seek the mind of the Lord of the church, 
and Baptists have believed that the entire congregation is 
responsible to engage in this process. Therefore, the church 
meeting should be the local church's primary instrument, for 
when it ceases to function effectively, the health of the church 
is affected. Essential to vital congregations are committed 
members and capable leadership. We turn, in the following 
chapters, to discuss the qualifications of church members and 
qualifications and duties of the various church officers. 


Special provisions relating to church meetings 
recommended for inclusion in church constitutions 
Notice of Intended Action. The laws of most states provide that 
certain matters cannot be decided by a church meeting without 


previous notice having been given of the intention to act upon such 
matters. This restriction most frequently applies to the calling or 
dismissing of a pastor, the buying or selling of real property, and 
the incurring of a legal indebtedness. The most common provision 
is that notice of such intended action shall be given from the pul- 
pit on each of the two Sundays immediately preceding the meeting 
at which the action is to be taken. If the laws of a particular state 
do not impose such a restriction, it would still be wise for the 
church to incorporate it in its own constitution. 

Denominational affiliation. Since some churches have been taken 
out of their denomination either by minority groups at sparsely 
attended church meetings or by virtue of misinformation used to 
mislead the members, churches have found it highly desirable to 
include some such provision as this in their constitutions: 

This church shall adhere to and be a member of the American 

Baptist Convention, the Baptist State Convention, 

and the Baptist Association, and shall not resign 

or withdraw from any of these bodies except by a duly adopted 
amendment to the Constitution of this church upon petition for such 
resignation or withdrawal signed by two-thirds of all the members 
of this church; nor shall such action be taken until at least thirty 
days have elapsed following a consultation thereto by the Boards of 
Deacons and Trustees of this church with the Moderator of the 
Association and the President of the State Convention or their 

Notice to the State Convention prior to the calling of a pastor. 
Churches not infrequently have called men to be their pastors, 
much to their later regret, on the basis of insufficient information. 
Unfortunately, there are men who have displayed weaknesses of 
character, personality, or ability, who have found their way into the 
ministry. In order to guard against a call being extended on the 
basis of insufficient information and to avoid being misled by an 
outwardly prepossessing personality, some churches have thought 
it wise to include some such provision as the following in their 

This church shall not call a minister until thirty days after the 

pulpit committee has requested the office of the 

Baptist State Convention to supply information concerning the 
record and qualifications of the candidate it proposes to recommend 
to the church. 


The thirty-day provision would seem to represent the minimum 
time required by the state convention office to make inquiries and 
to assemble information concerning the list of possible candidates 
submitted by the pulpit committee of the church. This provision 
should not delay the calling of a pastor, for usually it will take at 
least two weeks to settle on a particular candidate and to arrange 
an interview, and ordinarily two more weeks elapse before a vote 
can be taken extending a call. Nor does the provision in any way 
infringe upon the freedom of the church to call whom it will. 

Amendments to the constitution of the church. Since the church 
was recognized and welcomed into fellowship by its Baptist as- 
sociation on the basis of the constitution which it had adopted, it 
would seem to be common courtesy to notify the association of any 
proposed changes in the constitution. Furthermore, the experience 
of other churches may suggest problems and difficulties that would 
be created by the proposed change which had not occurred to the 
members of the particular church. For these two reasons, it may be 
desirable to include the following provision in the constitution: 

This Constitution may be amended only after thirty days have 

elapsed following notification to the Moderator of the 

Baptist Association of the proposed amendment or amend- 



Church Membership: 
Qualifications and Responsibilities 

Baptists emphasize that the membership of visible churches 
should include only those persons who are sincere Christians. 
But they have also been ready to acknowledge that an in- 
fallible judgment of a persons relationship to God is im- 
possible. For this reason various Baptist confessions conceded 
that even "the purest churches under heaven are subject to 
mixture and error/' 

It is not necessary to conclude that if we cannot do some- 
thing perfectly we should not try to do it at all. We need not 
give up all efforts to determine who are fit material for church 
membership. To do so would be to surrender the claim that 
Christ has laid upon us and to give up all endeavor to express 
the true life of the church in any visible, tangible way. Al- 
though one's profession of faith cannot be tested in any ulti- 
mate sense, that fact does not mean that a profession of faith 
should not be required of those who wish to enter the fellow- 
ship of the church. Anyone who has yielded his life to God 
in Christ should be able to state simply what it means to him 
to be a Christian, and his life should give some evidence of 
the sincerity of his profession of faith. Thus an individual is 
baptized only after he has made a public profession of faith 



and has been examined by the church. In this way, and by 
explicit provision for subsequent nurture and discipline within 
the fellowship of the church, Baptists have tried to realize the 
ideal of fully committed churches composed only of believers. 

Ways of Receiving Members 

Baptist churches receive members in three ways. First, new 
members are received by baptism, after having made a pro- 
fession of faith. Second, persons coming from another church 
may present a letter of commendation, and be admitted then 
by letter. Third, there are some people who have once mani- 
fested faith in Christ and been baptized, but through careless- 
ness their contact with the church was not maintained and 
their relationship with God grew cold. When such a person 
repents of the lapse which has occurred, he should not be 
rebaptized, nor can he be certified by his former church as a 
member in good standing. He is received after making a state- 
ment of his Christian experience, expressing repentance and an 
intention to dedicate his life anew to Christ. This practice is 
called receiving people upon experience, because its basis is 
their statement of previous Christian experience. Sometimes a 
fourth category of admission is used, namely, by restoration. 
This indicates that a member is received back into fellowship 
after having been excluded from the church. Such a case, how- 
ever, is not essentially different from one who is accepted upon 
experience and need not be treated as a distinct classification. 

Preparation for Membership 

Baptist churches of previous centuries used to require those 
wishing to join a church to appear before a congregational 
meeting to give a testimony to their experience of God's grace. 
Although not everyone had had a dramatic conversion, each 
person was expected to have made a decisive commitment and 
to tell simply what it meant to him to accept Christ as Savior 
and Lord. When he had declared his faith, an opportunity 


was presented for the pastor and others to ask questions to 
clarify points about which they wished further information. 
The candidate was then asked to withdraw, so that the con- 
gregation could discuss the question of his admission. If his 
testimony had been convincing, the congregation voted to 
accept him into their fellowship. Care was taken not to arro- 
gate to themselves the ability to discern perfectly the mind of 
God, but after careful deliberation the members made what 
they called "a judgment of charity." 

Modern practice differs considerably from that of early Bap- 
tist churches. As congregations have become larger and their 
memberships more scattered, there has been a weakening of 
the bonds of fellowship. In many churches, particularly in the 
South, it is common to have a congregation vote upon the 
reception of a member immediately upon his signifying an 
intention of joining the church. A person may indicate his 
desire to unite with the church by coming to the front of the 
sanctuary at the close of a service, and the congregation will 
be asked to vote without further information than can be given 
at that time. In the Baptist churches of the North, it is more 
usual to have a person appear before a membership committee 
prior to a congregational vote. 

If it is to act responsibly before God, a church must exercise 
all reasonable care to see that those who are received are 
fully committed to Christ. It is therefore imperative that those 
who ask to become members of the church receive instruction 
and be examined. A sincere profession of faith in Jesus Christ 
as Savior and Lord is the only real test of eligibility for church 
membership. The only theological knowledge which can be 
required of a new convert is an understanding of the rudiments 
of the gospel. In order to be as sure as possible that a candidate 
has these qualifications, a church must make provision for 
instructing each one in the meaning of church membership 
and for testing the genuineness of his profession of faith. 

Discipleship classes for those seeking membership should be 
standard practice in all churches. Such training is necessary 


for both the young people and older persons who are entering 
upon the Christian life. Even those who come from some other 
denominational background need to be instructed about Bap- 
tist emphases. Indeed, the fact that people have been church 
members for years does not ensure their understanding of the 
essential elements of the gospel or of the meaning of church 
membership. Therefore, it is well to require all prospective 
new members to attend a discipleship class taught by the 
pastor before being received into the church. 

The amount of time which should elapse between an initial 
profession of faith and baptism depends upon the background 
and maturity of the persons in question. Those coming directly 
out of a pagan environment, as is the case on some mission 
fields, are expected to go through a period of probation. Dur- 
ing that time they receive further instruction, and their lives 
are observed by the church to see whether they are serious in 
their purpose to live as Christians. Some form of probationary 
period might well be reinstituted even in the older churches. 

It is difficult to know at what age children should be ad- 
mitted into church membership. Many Baptist churches today 
encourage the baptism of children of eight or nine, but it is 
doubtful that those who are so young are prepared to make the 
significant decision which is required. There was a time when 
Baptists seldom baptized people under sixteen, and usually 
those who came into their churches were older than that. 
There are exceptions to most rules, but the rule should prob- 
ably be to expect youth to reach twelve or thirteen years of 
age, at least, before joining a church. One reason why we have 
so many nominal Christians today is our careless admission 
standards. To be so careless is tantamount to treating the faith 
itself with contempt, and to baptize children too early is virtu- 
ally to return to a practice of infant baptism. 

Examining Applicants for Membership 

After instruction, a candidate should he examined by the 
Board of Deacons, acting as a membership committee. At that 


time the applicant should testify to the reality of his Christian 
experience, express his intention to engage actively in the life 
of the church, and submit the totality of his life to the lordship 
of Christ. Questions should be asked which would elicit from 
the candidate responses indicating his understanding of the 
step which is being taken and his intention to be loyal to Christ 
and the church. 

Congregational Approval of New Members 

When the Deacons are satisfied with the statements of the 
candidate, they recommend to the church that he be received 
as a member, following baptism or receipt of his church letter. 
The entire congregation should approve or reject a candidate 
in a regular church meeting. Ordinarily, there should be 
unanimous agreement before a new member is admitted. In 
open meeting opportunity should be given for anyone to ex- 
press his reasons for opposing the acceptance of a given in- 
dividual. No one has a right to vote against a person without 
good reasons which he is willing to communicate to the church. 
So that the bond of fellowship will not be broken, there ought 
to be unanimity among the members. 

Soon after the church has signified its approval, a baptismal 
service should be held, and baptism should be administered 
to those who have not already been baptized. The "hand of 
fellowship"— the formal welcome of the person into the mem- 
bership of the church— is then extended at the first communion 
service after the baptism, although it may be done at some 
other time if necessary. The hand of fellowship is a brotherly 
greeting to a new member, but it is not essential to mem- 


Church membership involves responsibilities, but that fact 
unfortunately has not been always made clear to everyone. 
By joining a church we become a party to a covenant in which 
we acknowledge our relationship to God and to one another. 


Church Covenants 

During the seventeenth century, it was the normal custom 
of Baptists to form a new congregation by covenanting with 
God and one another to walk together in all the ways which he 
would make known to them. The persons who were to be con- 
stituent members of a church would draw up a covenant, and 
at a formal meeting would sign their names to the document. 
The act of covenanting made explicit the vows implied in 
baptism, and their act was the means of constituting the 
church. New members consented to accept the terms of the 
covenant, and periodically entire congregations renewed their 
covenant vows. Although not uniformly adopted by all Bap- 
tists, the practice of forming a church by covenanting with 
God and with one another was a common pattern in America. 

The use of covenants in forming a church is reflected in a 
seventeenth-century definition of a church. Benjamin Keach, 
a Baptist minister of that period, described a church as "a con- 
gregation of godly Christians, who at a stated assembly (being 
first baptized upon profession of faith) do by mutual agree- 
ment and consent give themselves up to the Lord, and one to 
another, according to the will of God." Although the word 
"covenant" is not used in this statement, the writer is describ- 
ing the covenanting by which a visible church was constituted. 

Although the language in which early covenants were 
couched differed somewhat, the general outlines were much the 
same. The essential idea was expressed as follows: "We do 
hereby give ourselves up to the Lord and to one another, 
agreeing to walk together in all of the ways which he does 
make known to us." In some cases the covenant contained 
little more than this simple statement; more often it mentioned 
specific duties which a member accepted as binding upon him 
as a member of a church. 

It is not uncommon for Baptists to read a church covenant 
today in connection with their observance of the Lord's Sup- 
per, but this usage is often little more than a formality. Few 
people know the significance of the covenant idea in the history 


of their churches, and little attempt is made to impress upon 
them the significance of their words when they read this docu- 
ment together. It used to be customary for Baptists to hold a 
covenant meeting on a weekday prior to the monthly observ- 
ance of the Lord's Supper. At that time the church family 
gathered to testify to their religious experience and to renew 
their covenant with God and one another. The recovery of 
such a practice today could help to impress upon us the sig- 
nificance of our covenant obligations and prepare us for a 
more meaningful celebration of the Lord's Supper. 

The use of such covenants is a most suitable means of im- 
pressing upon church members the sacred obligations which 
accompany their Christian profession. A church may draw up 
such a document for its own use, or it may adopt one prepared 
for general use in the churches. A covenant should include 
only things which inhere in the Christian life. Trifling things 
and customs based upon peculiar cultural conditions ought not 
to be included in its obligations. The covenant which is most 
common among Baptists today is an adaptation of earlier ones, 
particularly of one which was framed in connection with the 
New Hampshire Confession of Faith in the early nineteenth 

In one paragraph, that covenant affirms a responsibility to 
co-operate in the work of the church. Beginning with the 
words, "We engage ... to strive for the advancement of 
this church," it enumerates ways in which its life will be sup- 
ported. When one becomes a church member, it should be 
clearly understood that he is going to participate actively in 
its life. It is a travesty upon the nature of the church when 
members attend worship services irregularly and exhibit no 
interest in its work. 

The Responsibilities of a Church Member 

In a large church the program is often so complex that no 
individual can be involved in every activity. However, every- 
one can and should participate as fully as possible in the wor- 


ship, educational ministry, and business of the church. As a 
minimum he should attend worship services weekly, unless 
hindered by illness or absence from the vicinity. He should also 
be enrolled in some program of systematic study. When there 
is evidence that a person is indifferent to such responsibilities, 
it becomes the business of the congregation to inquire into his 
motives. Those who are negligent toward their duties should be 
reminded of them. There is no more justification for having 
inactive members of a church than for having inactive soldiers 
in an army. 

Members are responsible for serving in the church program 
when given the opportunity to do so. Those who have ability 
to teach, to hold office, or to perform some other task, should 
gladly devote the time and energy necessary to do the job 
thoroughly. There are varieties of gifts, and there are many 
kinds of service, all of which contribute to the smooth opera- 
tion of the whole body. 

Everyone is obligated to contribute generously to the finan- 
cial support of the church. Stewardship involves not only the 
investment of our personal talents, but the use of our material 
possessions. What is liberal giving for one person will not be- 
so for another, and a comparatively small contribution may 
represent a really sacrificial offering for a person of limited 
means. The New Testament does not lay down a rule requiring 
that everyone give a tenth of his income to the work of the 
church, but that is a good proportion for an average family 
to try to give. Most people give more than that amount in- 
voluntarily to the government in taxes; and by cutting down 
on some of our spending for things which are not necessary 
we can do that much for the work of God. A person who is 
niggardly in giving to the cause of Christ evidences a spirit 
that runs counter to the love of God and of one's neighbor 
which Christ has enjoined upon us. 

Besides an interest in the work of the local church, Christians 
are concerned for the co-operative work of churches of their 
own denomination and that of interdenominational agencies. 


It is a temptation to be so preoccupied with immediate interests 
that our outlook becomes provincial. While the local congrega- 
tion is the focal point of the life of the church, there must be 
ways in which the larger church of Christ presents its witness 
and shares common tasks. 

In another section of the usual covenant we "engage to 
watch over one another in brotherly love," thus acknowledging 
our duty toward those who are of the household of faith. 
Having been assured by their testimony that they are Chris- 
tians, and having accepted them into the fellowship of the 
church following baptism, we receive them as Christian 
brothers and sisters. Our kinship is through a common partici- 
pation in Christ; and our love is based upon higher considera- 
tions than the ties of blood or the sharing of common back- 
ground and interests. Within the Christian community we 
have our opportunity to express most fully that love by which 
Christ said that men should recognize his disciples. It is the 
mark which sets the church apart as a demonstration of that 
new society which God is creating and of which the church 
is the nucleus. 

Love toward Christian brethren is expressed in many ways. 
Among other specific things mentioned under this heading are 
these: "to remember each other in prayer; to aid each other in 
sickness and distress; to cultivate Christian sympathy in feeling 
and courtesy in speech; to be slow to take offense, but always 
ready for reconciliation, and mindful of the rules of our Savior, 
to secure it without delay." 

To pray for each other is an obligation and a privilege of 
church members. Our interest in our brethren should be ex- 
pressed in intercessory prayer, as we seek God's blessing upon 
his people. For those in need of material things, for those who 
are bereaved or lonely, and for those who through weakness 
have lapsed into sins, we must offer our prayers to God. For 
the corporate witness of the church, for the work of our con- 
gregation in its community, and for the pastor and other 
leaders of the church, we lift up our hearts and voices to God. 


When prayer represents a sense of responsible concern, it 
will be accompanied by efforts to minister to the needs of 
others. Hence, there must be a willingness to bear burdens, 
and to share joys and sorrows. Today, when government has 
had to assume responsibility for assistance to the needy at so 
many points, there is a tendency to lose all sense of personal 
interest and responsibility for aiding others. Although we 
should rejoice that such relief is made available to those in 
need, we should not lose all personal interest in them. Most 
churches can have some share in ministering to families and 
individuals within their own ranks, who are faced with hard- 
ships. Where the possibilities of giving financial aid end, there 
is still a place for sympathetic understanding and a ministry 
of Christian friendliness. 

Furthermore, members are duty-bound to promote the unity 
and harmony of the church. Wherever human beings associate 
closely, tensions and conflicts arise, but in the church every 
effort should be made to resolve the conflicts and remove the 
tensions. Although truth and right are not to be disregarded, 
there should be a willingness to forbear and forgive, and a 
ready acceptance of persons in spite of their shortcomings. 
Made up of men who have known God's pardon, the church 
is to be a community where forgiveness and sympathetic under- 
standing are readily offered. 

As individuals in every family must often subordinate their 
own desires to the interests of the group, so within the church 
self-interest must be curbed. Here is the place to express best 
that love which does not envy and is not arrogant or con- 
ceited. Although we are familiar with churches where there 
is party strife and where unhappy divisions have occurred, 
such a spirit is a denial of the meaning of Christian brother- 
hood and should be shunned. Even though we who compose 
the church are subject to human limitations, a power is avail- 
able through the presence of Christ which enables us in some 
measure to overcome our human tendencies toward pride and 


Moreover, in the covenant we pledge ourselves to use aids 
available for the cultivation of our spiritual and moral develop- 
ment. While Christianity is not to be confused with moralism, 
it nevertheless involves a way of living and has a concern for 
ethical conduct. We do not seek to merit God's approval by 
our achievements, but in gratitude for God's goodness and 
mercy we seek to obey him. This obedience includes the de- 
velopment of integrity, courage, concern, love, purity, and 

Membership in the church should inevitably make us open 
to God's leading. Thus, we try to ascertain how our Christian 
vocation may be fulfilled in all of the relationships and roles 
of life. If we are to learn God's will in these matters, and to 
have the resources of faith and courage to act accordingly, 
we need to increase our understanding of the Scriptures, to 
share in the worship and discipline of the church, and to 
maintain a private devotional life. Honest self-examination and 
humble confession of sins are necessary to growth in Christian 
life, and these are to be followed by the endeavor to alter our 
lives for the better at points of acknowledged weakness. 

Finally, membership in the church implies willingness to 
bear witness to Christ. The ministry belongs to the church as 
a whole, and every member has a duty to share in that ministry 
in his own way. The New Testament makes no distinction 
between ministers and laymen, for all are ministers and all 
are of the laity. 1 There is, however, a difference between 
"pastor" and "laymen," for the former term signifies one who is 
chosen by the church to occupy a position of leadership. 
Hence, we all share in the ministry of the church, but we do it 
in different ways. 

i Laos is the Greek word from which we get "laity" and 'laymen." It 
means "people," and all members are included among the "people of God." In 
our common parlance, we use the term "laymen" to distinguish specialists from 
those who do not have special training in a particular field. In that sense, it 
is proper to speak of laymen in the church, meaning thereby those who do 
not have the special training for exercising the pastoral leadership. Neverthe- 
less, the term tends to be misleading. 


Every Christian represents the church in the world; in fact, 
the church member may be thought of as being at work on 
the frontiers between the church and the world. He makes 
his testimony clear by what he does, says, and is, whether on 
the job, at home or in the community. Through the church he 
should receive insight and strength to live as a Christian in 
his vocation, not simply through verbal means but through 
attitudes and relationships. Accepting responsibility for the 
nurture of his own children, he seeks to provide the kind of 
environment in the family which will encourage them to be- 
come Christians. This kind of witness is something which 
occupies every day of the week, and involves all of life. 

The Privileges of a Church Member 

Church membership involves privileges as well as duties. 
There are certain rights which accompany membership in a 
Christian church. A member has a right to participate in the 
whole range of the church's activities— its worship, witness, 
service, and business affairs. As one who has a part in govern- 
ing the church, a member has a right to be heard and to vote 
on any issue under consideration. Full opportunity should be 
afforded for all who wish to declare themselves on matters 
relevant to the life and faith of the church. If time does not 
permit all to be heard at a particular meeting, another occasion 
should be appointed when they can express their views. It must 
be remembered that God does not automatically speak through 
majorities, and he may speak through a minority of one. So 
long as a person speaks and acts in good faith, he has a right 
to a hearing. 


Having discussed the admission of members into a church, 
we need also to consider the ways in which members are dis- 
missed. There are three main methods by which dismission 
is effected— by letter of commendation, by erasure, and by ex- 
clusion. The most common means is the transfer of member- 


ship from one congregation to another by letter. When a per- 
son moves from one community to another, he should present 
himself for membership in a church near enough to his resi- 
dence for him to participate regularly in its life. The church to 
which he thus applies should request a church letter from the 
one where he is a member. Such a letter indicates that he is 
in good standing, and that he is being dismissed from their 
fellowship to that of the new church. If the person in question 
is not in good standing, the church letter should provide that 
information. When a church has received the letter, it should 
acknowledge receipt of it. 

It is the practice of some churches to grant letters of dismis- 
sion to individuals, so that they may present them at some 
future time to a church where they may move. However, 
many times such letters are retained by individuals for a period 
of years, because the person does not affiliate with any church. 
These people have been called "trunk Baptists," because their 
letters are packed away in their luggage. Such procedures are 
not very satisfactory. After the passage of months or years, 
these persons can hardly be said to be members in good stand- 
ing of the church to which they formerly belonged. Any 
church to which they presented themselves ought to raise 
serious questions as to their reasons for neglecting to identify 
themselves with a church for a prolonged period of time. It is 
better to grant letters of commendation only upon the direct 
request of a church. Then persons who move away and break 
their ties at home and remain unaffiliated will have to be re- 
ceived into membership on some other basis. The receiving 
church would then have an opportunity to impress upon them 
the responsibilities of church membership before accepting 
them into its number. 

Partly because admissions practices have been lax, every 
church of any size has members on its rolls who cannot be 
accounted for and others whose attendance is very infrequent. 
In some churches two rolls are kept, one for resident and the 
other for non-resident members. Some may leave all of the 


names on a single roll, while others periodically remove the 
names of persons who take no active part in the work and 
worship of the church. The removal of names of persons who 
cannot be accounted for is called erasure. 

The third way in which membership is terminated is exclu- 
sion from the fellowship because of scandalous behavior, teach- 
ings which embarrass the cause of Christ, or failure to live up 
to covenant obligations. Baptists used to call this "excommuni- 
cation"; today that term has been dropped from the vocabulary 
in favor of the word "exclusion." However, whatever term is 
used, the fact is that the practice which it represents has 
virtually disappeared from our churches. 

Although such a radical kind of surgery should be taken 
only after great patience and care have been exercised, there 
are times when persons should be excluded from the fellow- 
ship. Since the church is meant to be a living embodiment of 
God's people, the Body of Christ visible in this world, those 
who are habitually indifferent ought not to be on its member- 
ship list. Careful efforts should be made to enlist the active 
participation of delinquent members. It is much better to win 
people back to loyalty to Christ and his church than to drop 
them from membership. However, after such efforts have been 
made to no avail, they should be excluded from the church. 
The term inactive members is a contradiction in terms when 
applied to the church. When a member dies, his name is 
erased from the church roll, and there is no more reason to 
retain those whose indifference reflects spiritual deadness than 
to keep on it the names of the deceased. 


By the middle of the twentieth century, new problems arose 
concerning the dismission and reception of members. Accord- 
ing to traditional Baptist practice, letters were always granted 
only to churches of "like faith and order," and only those 
persons who had been immersed on a profession of faith were 
admitted as members. Baptists were convinced that their 


doctrine of a regenerate church membership could not be 
maintained if members were transferred by letter to and from 
pedobaptist denominations. To receive members from pedo- 
baptist churches by means of letter, they held, was tantamount 
to giving approval to infant baptism; and infant baptism 
seemed clearly incompatible with the conception of a regen- 
erate membership. For generations, therefore, Baptists adhered 
to their historic stand. Like the Episcopalians, they stated that 
letters were granted only to churches of like faith and order. 
When a letter to a church outside the Baptist family was re- 
quested, they responded by writing that the person in question 
was a member in good standing, and that his name would be 
erased if the other church were to accept him on a statement 
of Christian experience. 

Changing conditions, however, brought a challenge to Bap- 
tist practice. The mobility of families and the growing con- 
sciousness of a need for Christian unity led many congregations 
to re-examine their policy regarding the admission of pedo- 
baptists. As it became more common for families to change 
denominational affiliations when they moved to new communi- 
ties, there were more frequent requests for Baptist churches to 
grant letters to, and to accept letters from, other denomina- 
tions. The problem was especially acute in growing metro- 
politan areas where, by comity agreement, a Baptist church 
might be the only Protestant church in a neighborhood. A 
pervasive ecumenical spirit had also made people more aware 
of the essential oneness of the church of Jesus Christ. 

In the face of this situation, an increasing number of Baptist 
churches have adopted an open-membership policy. That is, 
they admit persons from pedobaptist communions without re- 
quiring them to be rebaptized subsequent to their profession 
of faith. They expect the applicant to give evidence of a sin- 
cere profession of faith in Jesus Christ and of having been 
baptized and confirmed in his former church. On the other 
hand, most Baptists have resisted such changes and consider 
them a betrayal of Baptist principles. A standing resolution of 


the American Baptist Convention (May 26, 1926) still states 
that "only immersed members will be recognized as delegates 
to the Convention." 

The Case Against Open Membership 

Probably the great majority of Baptist churches today still 
insist upon believers' baptism by immersion as a requirement 
for membership. They defend their position by an appeal to 
the Scriptures, to Baptist history, and to practical considera- 
tions. On these grounds they offer a strong case for continuing 
to insist upon believers' baptism by immersion as a requirement 
for membership in Baptist churches. 

Approaching the question of baptism from the standpoint of 
the Scriptures, they insist that the rite must be associated with 
a decisive experience of faith and repentance on the part of the 
one baptized. Only by going beyond the evidence, they say, 
can one make a case for baptizing a passive individual on the 
grounds of the faith of someone else. Moreover, the evidence 
strongly supports immersion as the mode of baptism practiced 
in the apostolic era. Therefore, on scriptural grounds alone they 
regard the question as settled. They go on to point out that, 
with only a few exceptions, Baptists through the years have re- 
garded believers' baptism by immersion as the only acceptable 
form of the rite. Since this practice seemed inseparably con- 
nected with the ideal of a regenerate membership, Baptists in 
the past have insisted that the latter could be maintained only 
by retaining an emphasis upon believers' baptism. 

Some have also bolstered the arguments from Scriptures and 
from Baptist history with pragmatic observations. Pointing to 
the experience of Protestant Europe, they argue that the scan- 
dalous situation there illustrates the inevitable outcome of 
practicing infant baptism over a long period of time. In several 
countries, the state churches claim memberships which com- 
prise the majority of the citizens, but only a small minority 
takes any serious interest in the life of the churches. Indeed, 
many Protestants in Europe seem to have uneasy consciences 


with regard to infant baptism. Therefore, these Baptists declare, 
it would be foolish to abandon a position which has such strong 
biblical and historic support, and substitute one which has 
such demonstrable shortcomings. 

The Case for Open Membership 

There are other Baptists, however, who are not satisfied to 
uphold the traditional Baptist practice in this way. They con- 
tend that more problems are raised by refusing to admit pedo- 
baptists to membership in Baptist churches than by admitting 
them. They, too, are concerned to be faithful to the witness of 
Scripture, but they explain that we are closest to the mind of 
Christ when we emphasize the spirit and purpose which under- 
lie outward forms of ecclesiastical practice. In support of their 
stand in favor of open membership, they appeal to the essen- 
tial meaning of baptism in the New Testament and to its sig- 
nificance for Baptists. By such consideration, these Baptists 
believe that it is possible to preserve the scriptural intent of 
the rite and the historic Baptist emphasis of believers' baptism 
without conforming to the outward form in all details. 

Those who espouse this position agree that baptism should 
be related to the repentance and faith of the person who is to 
be baptized. Since they are advocating the reception by letter 
of persons baptized as infants, the question is raised: Can in- 
fant baptism have a connection with faith and repentance? 
Most other Protestant churches staunchly maintain that it can 
and does have such a meaning. The baptism of infants is 
tacitly acknowledged by many Protestants to be incomplete 
until the individual has accepted his baptism and made a pub- 
He confession of faith. Vows of confirmation, or something 
corresponding to these, are regarded as the completion of a 
process begun at baptism. Only after confirmation is the person 
fully a member of the church and eligible to partake of the 
Lord's Supper. In a sense, it is held, the two acts become a 
single event, and baptism becomes associated with faith and 
repentance. The sequence of events is admittedly awkward, 


they say, but they add that this reversal and separation of the 
parts of baptism began fairly early in the history of the church 
and Christians today must make the best of the situation. Feel- 
ing that it is presumptuous to declare most Christians un- 
baptized, some Baptists are willing to admit therefore that in- 
fant baptism followed by confirmation constitutes a broken but 
valid form of baptism. 

Secondly, turning to the question concerning the significance 
of baptism in relation to regenerate church membership, it is 
asked: Can regenerate membership be realized without strict 
adherence to the practice of believers' baptism? Admittedly, 
most of our Baptist forefathers would have returned an em- 
phatic negative to that question. But early in our history, we 
are reminded, there were a few voices among Baptists which 
dissented from the prevailing opinion on this point. John 
Bunyan, for example, held that "the church of Christ hath no 
warrant to keep out of the communion the Christian that is 
discovered to be a visible saint." In examining this matter, it 
is stressed, one should clarify the issues and base his conclu- 
sions upon principles rather than upon expediency. 

Contrary to the general assumption, argue those who favor 
open membership, believers' baptism is not an indispensable 
prerequisite to regenerate churches. Unless one is willing to 
contend that believers' baptism by immersion is essential to 
regeneration, they say, he cannot very well assert that re- 
generate church membership depends upon that form of bap- 
tism. No one questions that there are in pedobaptist churches 
many persons whose vital Christian experience and deep conse- 
cration leave no doubts that they are twice-born. The history 
of the church offers ample evidence that God has not withheld 
his Spirit from those who have been baptized as infants. There- 
fore, it seems necessary to concede that regenerate church 
membership is not inseparably tied to believers' baptism. 

The quality of church membership, state the advocates of 
open membership, depends more upon the preparation and 
examination of those admitted into it than upon the kind of 


baptism which is administered. Baptist experience, they con- 
tend, demonstrates that churches of poor quality can result 
even when believers' baptism is retained, if inadequate atten- 
tion is paid to examination, nurture, and discipline of members. 
An emphasis upon the quality of the Christian commitment of 
applicants, therefore, is more significant to them than the re- 
quirement of a particular form of baptism. 

It is not the intention of those who hold such views to mini- 
mize the importance of baptism. Their purpose is to focus 
attention upon what they regard as primary, so that we shall 
not be diverted by a preoccupation with secondary things. It 
is neither believers' baptism nor infant baptism which is the 
decisive factor, they assert, but faith in Jesus Christ as Savior 
and Lord. According to their position, baptism is an external 
form which is intended to signify a deeper reality. While no 
command of Christ is to be dismissed as trivial, we must not 
mistake form for substance. In the matter of baptism as with 
other ceremonies, they say, one may be so careful about proper 
compliance with ritual requirements that the act is reduced 
to legalism. If such a reduction is to be avoided, they conclude, 
and if we are really interested in the ideal of regenerate 
membership, our emphasis must be upon the care with which 
we admit members and the subsequent nurture which is pro- 
vided for them. 

To support open membership, say those who favor it, is 
not to propose that Baptists abandon believers' baptism. In our 
own practice, they explain, we must adhere to believers' bap- 
tism by immersion. Although a broken form of baptism may 
be accepted for Christians from other churches when their 
lives testify to a genuine Christian commitment, there is no 
reason for Baptists to adopt such a form for their own usage. 
Baptists recognize the obvious incongruity in administering 
baptism prior to a profession of faith, and the difficulty of 
associating such a baptism with repentance and faith. More- 
over, there is a vivid symbolism in immersion which is lacking 
in either sprinkling or pouring; immersion dramatically portrays 


one's identification with Christ in his death, burial, and resur- 
rection. Therefore, from the standpoint of the New Testament, 
believers' baptism by immersion is the appropriate form, and 
it ought to be retained by Baptist churches. 

Individual Churches Must Choose 

With respect to the question of open membership, then, 
there seems to be no simple, neat solution of the problem. 
Although traditional Baptist practice which insists upon be- 
lievers' baptism by immersion may seem to present the strong- 
er case, there is also both logical and theological force in the 
open-membership position. Until the impasse can be broken, 
both viewpoints will continue to find expression in Baptist 
churches. Meanwhile Baptists need to seek further light under 
the guidance of the Holy Spirit, as they try to arrive again at 
a clear consensus on this issue. 

Whichever position is adopted, it is necessary that the essen- 
tial meaning of baptism be kept in mind. To continue to stress 
regenerate membership in local churches requires that we take 
care at the right places. Churches should seek to ascertain 
whether the baptism and confirmation of persons coming from 
other churches does represent a sincere commitment to Christ. 
The same careful scrutiny which is given to new converts 
should also be given to those who ask to be received by letter 
from another church. That care should be exercised whether 
the applicant comes from another Baptist church or from an- 
other denomination. No church should succumb to the tempta- 
tion to make standards of membership easier simply in order 
to increase its size. Moreover, careful attention should be given 
to continued nurture and discipline of the member, encourag- 
ing his Christian growth and enlisting him in its ministry. 


The Baptist Ministry 


is the possession of appropriate officers. Among Baptists a 
church completed was traditionally defined as one having 
officers of God's appointment and the church's election. "A 
particular church," states the Philadelphia Baptist Confession, 
"gathered and completely organized according to the mind of 
Christ, consists of officers and members; and the officers ap- 
pointed by Christ to be chosen and set apart by the church 
. . . are bishops, or elders, and deacons." Having treated some 
aspects of the local church in the preceding chapters, we now 
turn to the subject of officers essential to a church. 


The chief office bearer in Baptist churches of an earlier day 
was the pastor (also called elder or bishop), who was to 
preach, teach, counsel, admonish, and rule. Deacons were to 
assist the pastor by looking after temporal affairs of the church, 
so that the pastor's attention need not be diverted from his 
main responsibilities. In some cases, a Baptist church also 
elected a ruling elder to assist the pastor in governing the 
church, and in some there was a teaching elder to help with 
the educational aspect of the work. Neither of the two latter 
offices had any function independent of the pastoral duties, 



however, and they did not become permanent among Baptists. 
With a dearth of qualified persons to serve in such positions, 
and with small congregations making them unnecessary, they 
gradually disappeared. 

The New Testament Churches 

When Baptist leaders of an earlier century customarily spoke 
of the offices of pastor and deacon as being "appointed by 
Christ," they were voicing a conviction that these were the two 
divinely prescribed offices essential to a church. In principle, at 
least, Baptists were correct in this interpretation, although 
they did oversimplify the New Testament data. Since their 
time, biblical scholarship has demonstrated that the form of 
the ministry in the primitive churches was too varied to be 
reduced to a single pattern. 

Instead of a picture of uniformity of church officers, the New 
Testament records reveal variety. They reflect a situation in 
which institutional patterns were being established but had 
not yet become fixed. Although no exact model is furnished 
for churches to follow in determining their officers, some prin- 
ciples are given for their guidance. Officers, like polity, must 
be considered in relation to the nature and purpose of the 
church. Certain offices are essential to the being of a church, 
while others vary with the needs of a given situation. 

Perhaps one might expect to find more specific patterns of 
church offices in the New Testament, but examination of 
relevant passages will show that the writers gave little atten- 
tion to such details. One cannot always distinguish between 
functions within the life of the church and specific office- 
bearers in its organization. For example, in his first letter to 
the Corinthians, Paul wrote: "And God has appointed in the 
church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers." He 
seemed to be enumerating the particular offices in the church, 
but his list continues: "then workers of miracles, then healers, 
helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues" 
(1 Cor. 12:28). The latter categories refer to particular spir- 


itual gifts and functions, but there is nothing in the statement 
to distinguish the first three terms from those which follow. 
It is also noticeable that no mention is made of pastors, bishops, 
elders, or evangelists in this list. Apparently the writer was 
thinking of spiritual gifts rather than offices in this context. 

In Ephesians Paul wrote that Christ had given special min- 
isterial gifts to his church: "And his gifts were that some 
should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some 
pastors and teachers" (Eph. 4:11). It sounds as though these 
gifts are meant to be related to offices within the church. How- 
ever, no further description of them is offered, and again we 
are left with questions as to his meaning. Are each of these 
terms intended to refer to distinct positions within the church? 
If so, were they to be temporary or permanent? Does the 
same person combine the work of pastor and teacher? If this 
is a list of church offices, why were not deacons included? 

When the foregoing passages are compared with 1 Timothy, 
additional questions are introduced. In this letter there are 
definite references to particular offices. Nothing is said about 
evangelists, apostles, or prophets. In chapter 3, however, the 
qualifications of a bishop and of a deacon are stipulated. In 
the discussion of deacons, a reference is made to "the women," 
but there is uncertainty about its meaning. Are they deacon- 
esses, or are they wives of deacons? Later, in chapter 5, there 
is a cryptic statement about "the widows," as though they may 
have occupied a special position in the church. Still farther 
along is the statement: "Let the elders who rule well be con- 
sidered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in 
preaching and teaching" (1 Tim. 5:17). Who is the elder? Is 
his a distinct office, or is this term synonymous with bishop 
and pastor? If the latter is the case, then why would only 
some of them labor in preaching and teaching? Elsewhere in 
the New Testament are references to a plurality of elders in a 
given congregation. 

These allusions suggest that no uniform system of organiza- 
tion had been crystallized in the apostolic churches. The solu- 


tion to the problems raised by the biblical data lies in recog- 
nizing the transitional character of this period. Only gradually 
did the Christian community see clearly that its identity was 
to become completely separated from Judaism. Consequently, 
it was slow in developing its own organizational forms; and 
when it did, it took over familiar patterns from the synagogue 
organization and adapted them to the new situation. 

In the synagogue were boards of elders (presbyters), which 
served as governing bodies, and one of their number was the 
presiding officer ( "the chief ruler of the synagogue" ) . As new 
Christian congregations were established, they appointed 
boards of elders to administer their affairs. Among the elders 
were individuals to whom special responsibilities were as- 
signed, and perhaps some of them were called bishops ( over- 
seers). As the church was extended and the number of 
believers multiplied, there arose a need for a greater division 
of labor. Duties connected with worship and teaching were 
assigned to bishops ( or pastors ) , and distinctions began to be 
made between bishops and other elders ( or priests ) .* With the 
rise of new needs, new offices were apparently created, as in 
the selection of seven men for administering the distribution of 
the common fund (Acts 6:1-6). The choice of the seven has 
traditionally been considered the beginning of the diaconate, 
but this fact is far from clear. By the end of the second 
century, a threefold ministry of bishops, priests, and deacons 
had developed in several centers. 

It is a mistake then to expect to find in the New Testament 
an organizational structure which can be literally copied today. 
If the practice of early churches, as disclosed in the biblical 
records, was so varied, we may assume that it is unnecessary 
for us to duplicate any one pattern that was used in the primi- 
tive churches. The church is an organism, and its outward 
form may vary. Within certain limits, its organization is flexible 
and adaptations may be made to meet changing conditions. 

i The Greek word for elder was presbyter, and priest is a shortened form 
of presbyter. 


Guiding Principles for Determining Church Offices 

Nevertheless, the absence of exact forms to be followed does 
not imply that there are no guide lines. To agree that the 
pattern of organization developed in response to practical 
needs does not mean that it was a completely accidental or 
indiscriminate development. The nature of the Christian com- 
munity and its mission to the world supplied guiding principles 
which governed the development of specific offices. 

It may be useful at this point to take a backward look for 
a moment. In the first chapter, the church was portrayed as 
a people called by God to be the agency in and through which 
he is working out his redemptive purpose. As a nucleus of 
persons who had experienced the transforming power of God, 
they were to continue the ministry of Christ in the world. 
Restored to fellowship with God and brought into closer 
fellowship with other men, they were to be a redemptive com- 
munity serving human need. The corporate nature of the 
Christian community is stressed in many figures of speech, 
and its ministry is shared by all its members. 

The Priesthood of Believers 

The characteristically Baptist belief that the ministry be- 
longs to the church as a whole is expressed in the doctrine of 
the priesthood of all believers. Unfortunately, this doctrine has 
often been misunderstood, for its conventional interpretation 
is that it means no more than the right of every man to ap- 
proach God directly. It is true that Christ is our High Priest, 
and that his priestly work is unique and unrepeatable. We 
may indeed come to God in prayer and in humble confession 
of our sins without the intercession of a human advocate, but 
for that matter people under the Old Covenant could also do 
that! This interpretation is not what the doctrine of the priest- 
hood of believers was originally intended to stress; it empha- 
sized responsibilities more than rights. The idea of priesthood 
indicates something done on behalf of another; one cannot be 
a priest to himself. 


The conception of the priesthood of believers was formu- 
lated in the Reformation era, but its foundations are in the 
New Testament. While the idea is implicit elsewhere, one of 
the few places where it is explicated is 1 Peter 2:9, "But 
you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's 
own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him 
who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." This 
statement, which was based on words originally addressed to 
Israel (Exodus 19:5-6), is applied herein to the church of 
Jesus Christ. The writer's obvious intent is to declare that as 
God's people, the church has a priestly ministry similar to that 
of Israel. The idea of the priesthood of believers, therefore, 
might be more clearly expressed as the mutual ministry of all 

It was with this idea in mind that Martin Luther announced 
that all members of the church are responsible ministers of 
Christ. Every man is a priest, and thus there is no special 
priestly class which has a monopoly on the means of grace. 
Nothing in the New Testament encourages the idea that a 
special clerical class was to be created which would be respon- 
sible for worship and witness, while the great majority of mem- 
bers would be spectators. Nevertheless, now as in Luther's 
time, there is a subtle tendency toward clericalism, which 
separates the status and functions of pastors and laymen in a 
misleading way. The employment of the term "full-time serv- 
ice" to designate those who work in specialized church voca- 
tions has fostered the impression that people are serving God 
only when they are engaged in some activity of the institutional 
church. The implication seems to be that the interests and 
occupations which take up the major part of the time of the 
average church member are unrelated to the service of God. 
In order to correct false impressions about such service, we 
need to broaden our conception of the church's ministry. 

First of all, the limited idea that the church exists and serves 
only when people are gathered for some formalized church 
service needs to be dispelled. The church exists even when 


its members are dispersed in their homes and at their jobs, 
and its ministry is carried on through all of the roles and rela- 
tionships of individual Christians. Not everyone bears his 
witness or carries out his Christian vocation in exactly the same 
way, but everyone is called to serve Christ in all of his life. 
As John Calvin put the matter "[God] has appointed to all their 
particular duties in different spheres of life. And ... he has 
styled such spheres of life vocations or callings. Every individ- 
ual's line of life, therefore, is ... a post assigned him by the 
Lord." 2 Looked at in this light, it is plain that members serve 
God in a wide range of ways; and all of these are part of the 
church's ministry to the world in the name of Christ. 

The Need for Leaders 

With the thought very clearly established in our minds 
that the ministry belongs to the entire congregation, we may 
proceed to discuss the need for leadership within the churches. 
It is important to guard against clericalism's opposite extreme, 
which sees no need of leaders with professional training. We 
must remember that, although all members of the church are 
ministers, not all of them are pastors. The distinction is one 
of role or function. There are diverse kinds of ministry, and 
among them is a ministry of leadership in the church whereby 
the entire fellowship is trained for its responsibilities. Accord- 
ing to Paul, Christ's gifts to his church were "for the equip- 
ment of the saints for the work of the ministry" 3 and "for 
building up the body of Christ" (Ephesians 4:12). Gifts of 
leadership are needed to help the whole church develop spir- 
itual maturity so that it is prepared to fulfill the calling it has 
received from God. 

It should be self-evident that churches need leaders in order 

2 John Calvin, Institutes, III, x, vi, translated by John Allen. Philadelphia: 
Presbyterian Board of Publication. 

3 Recent scholarship has indicated that the comma which follows the word 
"saints" in earlier versions, such as the King James and Revised Standard, 
should be omitted. See, for example, The New English Bible (Oxford Uni- 
versity Press and Cambridge University Press, 1961). 


to be faithful to their calling. This necessity is implied in Paul's 
enjoinder that things be done "decently and in order" ( 1 Corin- 
thians 14:40), and it is involved in the concept of the church as 
analogous to the human body. Declaring that Christians have 
diverse gifts, Paul compares them to different parts of the body. 
It would not be good, he says, if the body were all eyes or 
ears; but each gift within the church supplements the other 
gifts, as varied parts contribute to the total functioning of a 
human life (Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 12:12-28). His point 
is obvious; namely, that all who make up the church contribute 
to the fulfillment of its task, each one according to the gifts 
that God has granted him. 

The doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, therefore, 
does not eliminate the necessity for some division of labor 
within the church. In his discussion of this subject, Martin 
Luther said that it is possible, in theory, for everyone in town 
to be the mayor; but from a practical point of view, only one 
person at a time can hold such an office. Although many per- 
sons might be able to assume certain offices in the church, the 
requirement of doing things "decently and in order" necessi- 
tates that specific persons be designated to serve in particular 
positions. Leadership is needed to help a group focus its 
efforts and achieve its purposes with a minimum of waste and 
confusion. Even in the primitive churches, there were some 
specialized leadership functions which required the establish- 
ment of particular offices, and the expansion of Christianity 
brought about further differentiation of functions. The offices 
were associated with special responsibilities for leadership. 

Those who serve in such offices act as representatives of 
the church. That is why Baptists insist that officers of a church 
be elected by the body. Since no one has a right to represent 
other people without their approval, a congregation must 
approve the officers who are to act in its behalf. It is this prin- 
ciple which underlies the ordination of men to specialized 
ministries, as well as the election, or call, of the pastor and 
other officers. 


If a church is to act responsibly in the name of Christ, it 
needs some leaders with specialized training in the pastoral 
office. To this office special responsibilities are charged, and 
for its fulfillment special gifts and preparation are required. 
There are other kinds of ministry which require the dedication 
of able people, but which offer opportunities for leadership 
by those without professional training. The rest of this chapter 
is devoted to a discussion of the office of the pastor, and the 
succeeding one deals with other offices of the church. 


What is the work of the pastoral ministry? In the past when 
life was more simple, the pastor's role was relatively clear. 
He was the leader of the congregation, the shepherd of the 
sheep ( as the word "pastor" literally means ) , who was account- 
able to God for those who had been placed under his care. 
Nor did he need to inquire what his duties were. He led the 
public worship of God, presided at other meetings of the 
church, instructed the faithful from the pulpit, catechized the 
children, visited the homes of those who had made no Chris- 
tian profession, baptized converts, counseled the perplexed and 
distraught, performed weddings, and conducted funerals. His 
schedule of activities was apt to be fairly simple, although by 
no means easy. Mornings were devoted to study so that he 
might properly instruct the people, afternoons were devoted to 
visitation, and evenings were spent with the family or at oc- 
casional church gatherings. Living within a convenient radius 
of the meeting house, the individual members of the church 
could be intimately known by the minister. 

The pastor's role in the twentieth century is not so clear-cut. 
It has tended to be obscured by many new demands that have 
been placed upon him. Congregations are larger and more 
scattered. This circumstance has meant a loss of intimate per- 
sonal relationships, a larger number of weddings and funerals, 
and a vastly increased need for visitation. The dispersed 
membership involves many hours spent in travel; in fact visits 


to two or three hospitals may pre-empt a whole afternoon. Not 
only are congregations larger and more scattered, but their 
organization has become more complex and cumbersome with 
a multiplicity of boards, committees, and special-interest 
groups. As a result, heavy promotional and administrative de- 
mands are placed upon the pastor, transforming him into an 
executive secretary whose principal business is to keep the 
organization functioning efficiently and smoothly. Far from be- 
ing a leader of a people, he is often regarded as an employee 
who is skilled in looking after details. He is also expected to 
represent the church by participating in a wide variety of com- 
munity activities and to attend the endless schedule of church 
meetings. Little time is left for study and reflection, and it 
becomes increasingly difficult for the pastor to know what is 
his primary vocation. Is it to be a leader of God's people, an 
interpreter of God's word to them, and a physician of souls; 
or is it to be an efficient administrator of ecclesiastical ma- 
chinery, a recreational director, and a public relations man? 
One of the most important tasks confronting the churches 
in the twentieth century is the task of restoring to the pastoral 
office its proper image. 

The Role of the Pastor 

What, then, is a pastor? In the light of our concept of the 
church as a worshiping, teaching, witnessing, ministering com- 
munity, what ought the role of the pastor to be? What kind 
of leadership should he be expected to provide? The pastor's 
role is primarily an inside job. His task is to "equip the saints 
for the work of the ministry" and to "build up the body of 
Christ" (Ephesians 4:12). Through his leadership the church 
as a whole must come to an understanding of its own nature 
and mission, with its members learning how they themselves 
can be missionaries and evangelists living on the frontiers be- 
tween the church and the world. 

At the very heart of the pastor's work is his teaching minis- 
try, which is a part of almost all that he does. Only as church 


members are informed and disciplined are they equipped to 
live in obedience to God and bear a faithful witness to him. 
The church regards the Scriptures as having a unique author- 
ity for faith and practice, and an understanding of the Bible 
is imperative for Christians. If Christians are to understand 
the Scriptures adequately, they need disciplined study under 
competent guidance. Without pastors who have special train- 
ing in the Bible and in theology to instruct them, church mem- 
bers are open to the whims of self-appointed authorities who 
may introduce all sorts of vagaries. The Bible is not a book 
that can be easily understood. There is much that an un- 
tutored person can understand in the Bible, of course, and 
sometimes a man of simple faith has insights which are not 
given to a more learned man who does not have the same 
spirit of commitment. However, the plain fact is that the Bible 
can be a dangerous book when it is misunderstood and mis- 
used. It is only necessary to remember that many of the most 
bizarre and exotic cults claim to be based squarely on the Bible, 
to appreciate what happens when uninformed interpreters be- 
come authorized teachers. 

The risk that individual interpreters without knowledge may 
fall into queer aberrations which falsify Christ is not the only 
one in Bible study. There is also the fact that the church lives 
in the world, and must constantly guard itself against the pres- 
sures of the world, which serve to distort the gospel. The con- 
formity-making influence of culture is a constant threat. The 
history of Christianity is filled with examples in which the gos- 
pel has become identified falsely with some elements of a given 
culture. Such dangers are so subtle that only by a clear un- 
derstanding of the Bible and by solid theological thinking can 
the church maintain its identity as a church of Christ. With- 
out members who are solidly grounded in the Christian faith 
and its implications for the whole life, the church stands un- 
guarded against the danger of being molded by the environ- 
ment in ways that are inconsistent with its very nature. 

The vocation of the pastor includes the conduct of public 


worship of God. Not everyone has the gifts of training to con- 
duct such a service in a manner conducive to a genuine en- 
counter with God. Furthermore, there would be chaos if 
everyone arrogated to himself the responsibility to take the 
lead in such services. This does not mean that worship is lim- 
ited to the times when the whole congregation is gathered 
together, nor that no one but a pastor can pray or read the 
Scriptures. Indeed, worship should also be at the heart of small- 
group activities, and teachers and officers should be able to 
lead such gatherings in devotional periods. The pastor, how- 
ever, is authorized to assume leadership in the corporate wor- 
ship of the church. This authority is delegated to him, not be- 
cause he is endued with some special grace that others lack, 
but because good order demands that someone be chosen 
and because the congregation believes him to be qualified for 
it. In the same way, baptism and the Lord's Supper are acts 
of the church, which may not be performed in orderly fashion 
without the consent of the church. Such consent is expressed 
in ordination and a call to pastoral responsibility, and normally 
these acts may properly be performed only by an ordained 

Equally prominent in the pastor's role is the duty of teach- 
ing. While many share in the instructional life of the church, 
the pastor is the chief teacher. He is a teacher of teachers and 
plays an important part in the preparation of leaders in all of 
the church offices. When a pastor is chosen, it is partly because 
he has exhibited gifts which make him a good teacher, and 
because he has been given specialized education in disciplines 
related to the life of the church. As a pastor he is freed for 
study so that he may be able to interpret the Scriptures, show- 
ing their relevance to the situation of his people. As a preacher 
and teacher, it is his peculiar responsibility to help the church 
understand the will of God with regard to contemporary needs 
and issues. 

Another important aspect of the pastor's work is the care 
of individual souls. In a small church the pastor can have 


close ties with all the members and share in an intimate and 
personal way all their joys and sorrows. In a large church this 
is more difficult, but it is still important for the pastor to have 
a personal acquaintance with all of those to whom he is called 
to be a shepherd. Where he cannot establish the close and in- 
timate relationships which prevail in a small membership, he 
can nevertheless help to develop patterns of church life which 
will enable people to experience the fellowship of the Holy 
Spirit. Much can be done toward such an end by developing 
smaller groups within which individuals will experience the 
kind of intimate fellowship which helps them to become mature 
and articulate Christians. Much of the pastor's time will be 
occupied with urgent personal problems which require his 
individual attention— the problems of people who are troubled 
by anxieties of one kind or another. Men, women, and children 
whose lives are shattered by homes that are broken or torn 
by strife and dissension are to be found everywhere. In every 
community there are parents whose children are in revolt 
or involved in delinquent behavior. Other people are troubled 
by a sense of alienation from God, by a feeling of personal in- 
adequacy, by the drudgery and meaninglessness of their jobs, 
or by the fact that youth is slowly slipping from their grasp. 
All of these need the healing word which can be brought by 
a wise and well-prepared pastor. Even in this kind of ministry, 
however, the entire church should have a share, for troubled 
persons need the therapeutic effect of becoming part of a fel- 
lowship of Christian friends. 

Although a pastor may become too much involved in ad- 
ministrative duties, a certain amount of such work is properly a 
part of his responsibility as a leader of the church. Others may 
do much to relieve him of routine administrative duties, so that 
he can give himself more fully to the tasks which alone are his. 
If he can prepare others in the church to assume administrative 
duties, he ought to delegate responsibilities to such people. The 
pastor, however, cannot abdicate responsibility for general 
oversight of the total program of the church. 


The Qualifications of a Pastor 

It is clear that the pastor must be equipped with the "gifts" 
of leadership, including an aptitude for study, balanced judg- 
ment, and an ability to communicate clearly and persuasively. 
His character, as the New Testament informs us, should be be- 
yond reproach. In addition, he should have a profound con- 
cern for people and a sensitivity to their needs and unspoken 
yearnings. This kind of interest will spring from a deep ex- 
perience of the reality of God's redeeming love in his own life. 
Clear convictions as to the essentials of the Christian faith 
are also necessary. 

Although these "gifts" are basic, it goes without saying that 
careful preparation is also needed to equip persons fully for 
pastoral leadership. A winning personality and dynamic 
energy may be enough to get results of a sort, but more than 
personality and vigor are needed to build up the body of 
Christ. A broad knowledge of the world in which we live and 
an understanding of human needs are important for the pas- 
tor, and graduation from a liberal arts college is therefore con- 
sidered essential to an adequate preparation for the ministry. 
But college training is not enough. A thorough familiarity with 
the Scriptures— the "source" book of the Christian community- 
is indispensable. There are right ways and wrong ways of using 
it, and the wrong use of the Bible may produce demonic re- 
sults. Furthermore, the insights of the Bible must be brought 
together in a structured whole— into a systematic theology— 
if their meaning is to be made plain and their implications 
apprehended. Finally, because he needs to be able to com- 
municate the gospel effectively, he must be familiar with the 
processes by which people learn, as well as with the hidden 
motivations which impel them to act and to behave as they 
do. Therefore, the theological education which a seminary of- 
fers is indispensable. When we speak of pastoral ministry as 
a learned profession, we mean that a pastor should be learned 
in the Christian faith and in the ways of the world, and that 
he should have those skills which will enable him to help 


people to develop a mature Christian faith. His education 
will not make him an adequate minister without the prior pos- 
session of "natural" and "spiritual" gifts, but neither will he be 
adequate without careful and disciplined preparation for his 

The Call to the Ministry 

The term "call to the ministry" is somewhat misleading, for, 
as has already been stated, all Christians are called to be min- 
isters. What is meant by the term is the call to the pastoral 
ministry. Many people seem to think that a calling to such 
service is purely a private matter between an individual and 
God. Some people declare that no one has a right to question 
another person's sense of call to such a ministry, no matter how 
unsuited that person may appear to be. Such a completely in- 
dividualistic interpretation of the call of God is not in line with 
Baptist thought prior to the middle of the nineteenth century. 
Since the pastor preaches and teaches and ministers in a repre- 
sentative capacity, the call of God is an outward call which 
comes through the church. The inward call or the secret call 
is an inner assurance on the part of the individual that it is 
God's will that he should make himself useful in the role to 
which the church has summoned him. Such an inward call 
finds expression in his willing response to the outward call of 
the church. 

If the ministry belongs ultimately to the church itself, then 
it is the responsibility of the church to select worthy persons 
to act as its representatives in exercising leadership in the min- 
istry of the whole church. The early Baptist churches were 
constantly being reminded to seek out those young men among 
their members whose "gifts" and aptitude for learning sug- 
gested that they might have the capacity for pastoral leader- 
ship. The initial call of the church to them might be a word 
spoken by a pastor, a deacon, a church school teacher, or some 
other member. If there was an answering response and a con- 
viction by the whole church in the genuineness of the "gifts," 


the procedure was to license him to preach so that he might 
exhibit his "gifts" and to encourage him to pursue the necessary 
studies to equip him for pastoral labors. The final step was 
then for him to present himself to the church for ordination. 
Before he was ordained, his call, his Christian experience, his 
educational preparation, and his understanding of the Chris- 
tian faith would be reviewed and examined by an ordination 
council, and a decision would be made as to his suitability for 
the pastoral ministry. Ordination, therefore, became a public 
affirmation by the church that an individual's qualifications had 
been tested and that he had been approved for the pastoral 

In the twentieth century the role of the church is much less 
clear. Too often the church neglects its responsibility to take 
the initiative in suggesting to some person that he should con- 
sider whether or not God is calling him to the pastoral ministry. 
Indeed, it is not uncommon to have someone say to a young 
person: "If you can possibly do anything else, stay out of the 
ministry." While this advice is well meant, it is misleading, 
for it suggests that one must receive some sign utterly different 
from that of other callings if he is to be a pastor. Furthermore, 
it falsifies the role of the church, which again and again— as 
in the case of John Knox, for example— has had to labor and 
pray and almost compel men to assume the pastoral responsi- 
bilities for which God had so obviously equipped them. 

Ordination to the Pastoral Ministry 

According to the customary practice among Baptist churches, 
it is the local church that ordains a person for the pastoral min- 
istry. A local church, however, should have the counsel and 
advice of other churches in so important a matter. Therefore, 
other churches of its local association are represented in the 
ordination council which examines the candidate and recom- 
mends to the church whether or not it should proceed to ordain 
him. This procedure allows a wider range of persons to judge 
his qualifications and to determine whether his understanding 


of Christian faith and practice is consonant with that of the 
denomination as a whole. The presence of such a representa- 
tive group is an indication that the denomination is also con- 
ferring its approval upon the individual's qualifications for the 
pastoral ministry. If a single congregation should insist upon 
exercising its prerogative of ordination without the advice of 
others, then it would be logical to require the man to be re- 
ordained when, and if, he moves to another church. 

The usual procedure which leads to ordination begins with 
licensing a man 4 to preach. This act of the local church in ef- 
fect represents a notification to other churches that it would 
like to have them give him an opportunity to preach as occa- 
sion permits, so that his gifts can be tested. During this period 
he is also expected to pursue a program of study in preparation 
for the pastoral ministry. When his education is completed, 
he applies to the local church for ordination; and if the church 
is satisfied that he should be ordained, it notifies the association 
of its desire to ordain him and issues an invitation to the 
churches of the association to send representatives to an ordina- 
tion council. The association or the state convention should 
arrange for a committee to examine the candidate at a pre- 
liminary meeting to see whether his credentials are in order 
and to determine whether or not he has met the educational 
and other standards that have been set by the association or 
the state convention. This preliminary examination of outward 
credentials is designed to avoid the convening of a council 

At the meeting of the ordination council, the candidate re- 
lates his Christian experience, describes his call to the ministry, 
and makes his own confession of faith. After this statement 
has been heard, and he has replied to questions put to him by 
the representatives of the churches, the moderator asks him to 
withdraw. Following a discussion of his qualifications, a vote 

4 Although the word "man" is frequently used in this manual with regard 
to the pastoral ministry, this usage is generic, and not purely masculine. It is 
not intended to exclude the ordination of women. 


is taken as to whether or not the council should recommend 
that the local church proceed with the ordination. Although 
there have been cases where a church has acted contrary to 
the advice of a council, this procedure is decidedly irregular. 
No such ordination should be recognized by the denomination, 
and the church should be asked by the association to regular- 
ize its action by referring the matter to an appropriate advisory 
committee or council of the association for consideration and 
the recommendation of appropriate steps. In some cases, this 
body may recommend that the earlier ordination receive asso- 
ciational endorsement; in others, it may recommend that the 
man be reordained after meeting certain requirements. 

After a church has been notified of a favorable action by an 
ordination council, it proceeds to plan the service of ordina- 
tion. Usually representatives of the association and the state 
convention are invited to participate in the service. The central 
act of ordination is the ordination prayer, in which God's bless- 
ing is invoked upon his ministry and which is accompanied 
by the ordained ministers present laying their hands upon the 
candidate. More rarely, though appropriately, one or two 
deacons of the ordaining church will also participate in this 
act. Prior to the prayer, the recommendation of the council 
is read, an appropriate sermon is delivered, a charge to the 
candidate is given, and sometimes the candidate responds by 
affirming vows of ordination. The ordinand is seated in the 
congregation, until he is requested to stand for the charge and 
then to come forward for the ordination prayer. Following 
the prayer it is customary for a welcome into the ministry to 
be extended to the newly ordained person, who then pro- 
nounces the benediction as the first act of his pastoral office. 

Revocation of Ordination 

In view of the fact that Christian ordination signifies the ap- 
proval of the church for a man to serve in a specialized church 
calling, there should be some way to reverse the process. In 
some cases, men have ceased to serve as pastors and have 


turned to some secular employment. Sometimes, indeed, 
scandalous behavior has forced their withdrawal from leader- 
ship in the church. Although a church which has ordained 
a person may revoke that ordination, such action happens very 
rarely. Ordinarily, the person continues to be known as an 
ordained Baptist minister, no matter what is the reason for his 
having discontinued to serve in such a capacity. Regular pro- 
cedures should be established by all associations by which an 
ordination can be revoked where there is no longer any reason 
for the person to have such approval and recognition. 

Local Ministers 

It should be noted here that there was a time when Baptist 
churches ordained a man only to a given congregation. When 
he moved from that congregation, his ordination ceased. If 
he were called to another congregation, he was ordained by 
that church. This was thoroughly in keeping with the Baptist 
understanding of the pastoral ministry, but it presented some 
practical problems in terms of the free movement of pastors, 
as the need arose, from one congregation to another. Thus 
the practice arose of regarding ordination as valid in all 
churches, with the relationship of pastor and people in a par- 
ticular congregation being affirmed in a service of installation 
which reconfirmed the ordination for that particular church. 
This, on the whole, has been an eminently satisfactory pro- 

There may be some situations in which ordination should 
be limited to service in a particular church. There is but one 
ordination and there can be no different levels of privilege, 
status, or function of an ordained person within a local con- 
gregation. But the locale within which ordination is recog- 
nized can be, and usually is, defined with more or less speci- 
ficity. It has been suggested that the ordination of a person 
who has met all the ordination standards of the Baptist de- 
nomination be recognized— in terms of its locale— throughout all 
Baptist churches. However, because many churches are unable 


to secure pastors who have met all the standards for ordination, 
some of these have either resorted to a dependence upon an 
irregular, unordained ministry or have proceeded to ordain a 
person in disregard of the established standards. To regularize 
this situation, it is proposed that these men be ordained as 
local ministers who, outside the context of the particular con- 
gregation by whom they have been ordained, would resume 
their lay status. All the privileges of the regularly ordained 
pastor would be accorded such a person during the tenure 
of his relationship to the particular congregation, but ordina- 
tion as a local minister would indicate that he has not com- 
pletely fulfilled the requirements for a general ordination. Such 
an ordination would take place following the recommendation 
of an ordination council. It would provide a means of establish- 
ing standards for a general ministry, without detracting from 
the meaning of a local ordination. 

Lay Preachers 

It has been further suggested that the category of lay 
preacher be restored. It is not necessary that public preaching 
be limited to ordained persons, but it is important that no 
church member should do so without the approval of the 
church. As the Philadelphia Confession of Faith puts it: "Al- 
though it be incumbent on the bishops or pastors of the 
churches to be instant in preaching the Word, by way of office; 
yet the work of preaching the Word is not so peculiarly con- 
fined to them but that others also gifted and fitted by the Holy 
Spirit for it, and approved and called by the church, may and 
ought to perform it." Notice especially the words, "approved 
and called by the church." Those so approved and called were 
lay preachers. There were and are many ways in which a lay 
preacher can be of service— for example, when a neighboring 
church is without a minister or when a neighboring pastor is 
ill. Ordination is not necessary for such a person to render 
acceptable service in public preaching and teaching as need 
arises. Even a lay preacher, however, is a representative of 


the church and should not exercise his gifts publicly without 
the approval of the church. Nor should such approval be given 
unless the person has the ability to perform these tasks in a 
creditable way. Too often a person with nothing to commend 
him but fluency of speech has been prevailed upon to fill a 
pulpit in cases of necessity. Such a relationship lacks the sup- 
port and approval of the church, and demeans the office of 
pastor. Occasionally, the license to preach, which represents a 
step toward ordination, has been misused for the purpose of 
giving some type of certification to the lay preacher. Instead 
of misusing the license to preach, and instead of proceeding ir- 
regularly in allowing anyone to preach who might be asked 
to do so by an individual, it is suggested that churches would 
act much more wisely to identify those in their congregations 
who are capable of preaching effectively. They could be com- 
missioned as lay preachers and would be available to fill the 
pulpits of neighboring churches as occasion demands. 

Other Ordained Ministries 

Not only pastors of congregations should be ordained. As 
early Baptists occasionally elected and ordained one of their 
number to be a ruling elder or a teaching elder, in more recent 
times churches have provided their pastors with associate or 
assistant pastors. Such persons share the pastoral responsibility 
and need to be ordained. Moreover, there are many who serve 
the churches in ways which require qualifications similar to 
those of a pastor. For example, the state secretaries, the execu- 
tive officers of mission boards, evangelists, and professors in 
theological seminaries are all outside of the actual pastoral 
ministry. Yet they serve churches in ways similar to the duties 
of the pastoral office, and most of them engage to some extent 
in preaching and teaching. The general test as to whether 
ordination is needed should center upon the nature of a per- 
son's duties and his preparation. 


Other Officers of the Local Church 

Few churches today are organized so simply as to require 
no officers other than pastors and deacons. The complexity of 
the organization of local churches varies so much that it is diffi- 
cult to make a blueprint for the structure of a Baptist church. 
In some cases, a church may have a staff of several persons with 
professional training, each of whom shares in the pastoral re- 
sponsibilities, whereas the typical small congregation can sup- 
port only one full-time person in the pastoral ministry. Yet 
even a small church today needs a number of officers to carry 
on its many-sided program. Considerable room should be 
allowed for flexibility, therefore, so that adaptations can be 
made to local situations. 

There are some general patterns of organization, however, 
which characterize present-day Baptist churches. These pat- 
terns follow naturally from the practical functioning on a local 
level of the central mission of Christ's church. All offices and 
agencies of an individual church, therefore, should be kept 
related to the fulfillment of these functions. 


The Moderator. The pastor may serve as moderator of the 
church, or another member may be elected to serve in that 
capacity. Formerly, it was customary for the pastor to be mod- 



erator, but today's practice in Baptist churches varies in this 
respect. There are fairly good reasons to support either plan. 1 
It is also common to have the chairman of the Board of Dea- 
cons to serve in this capacity. The moderator serves as a pre- 
siding officer at the official congregational meetings, and he is 
an ex officio member of all boards. 

The Church Clerk. A church clerk is essential even in the 
smallest congregation. Someone must keep the records. Ob- 
viously the qualifications for such an office include carefulness 
as to details, a sense of responsibility, and the ability to keep 
accurate records in legible form. Since a clerk must also carry 
on correspondence in the name of the church, care should be 
taken to select a person capable of expressing ideas in gram- 
matically correct language. The chief duties of this office are 
to keep minutes of all congregational meetings, to maintain 
an accurate roll of the membership, and to carry on correspond- 
ence (including letters of dismission to other churches). It is 
also the clerk's responsibility to furnish statistical reports and 
other data required by the local Baptist association as well as 
state and national conventions. The clerk is elected by the con- 
gregation. Since there is special value in having continuity in 
this work, the office probably need not be rotated. Unless the 
incumbent is incompetent, there is no reason why he should 
not continue in this position indefinitely. 

The Treasurer. The treasurer is expected to provide for the 
safekeeping and the disbursement of funds in accord with the 
instructions of the church. Here again accuracy and depend- 
ability are of great importance. In view of the fact that not 
everyone has the ability to keep careful financial records, suit- 
able training or experience should be a factor in electing a per- 
son to take charge of this work. The records should be kept in 
such form that they can be easily examined by an auditing com- 
mittee prior to the annual meeting of the church. 

The Financial Secretary. It is usual for a financial secretary 
to receive and count all moneys and to deposit the receipts in 

1 See Supra, pp. 18-19. 


the proper bank accounts. He then turns over to the treasurer 
a statement of such deposits. This officer keeps a record of the 
contributions of individual members which are given through 
envelopes provided by the church. At the end of the year each 
contributor should receive an accurate statement of his giving. 
The Church School Superintendent. The general superin- 
tendent serves as the administrative head of the Sunday church 
school, in co-operation with the Board of Christian Education. 
In some churches, where there is a director of Christian edu- 
cation, it may be considered advisable for that person to do 
the work of the superintendent. The director is related to the 
entire educational program of the church, including vacation 
church school, weekday Christian education, Sunday evening 
programs, Sunday church school, and many other activities. 
When the superintendency is a separate office, this person is 
concerned solely with the Sunday church school, including ail 
its departments. Too often in the past the Sunday school has 
acted almost independently of the church itself, choosing its 
own officers and having its own budget. More recently there 
is general recognition that this school has meaning only as an 
arm of the church, and acknowledgment of that fact is made 
when we refer to it as a Sunday church school. By having 
the general superintendent and other officers and teachers ap- 
proved by the church meeting and by providing for the needs 
of the school through the regular church budget, the church 
can direct the school's affairs in a way which will best serve to 
fulfill its teaching ministry. When the officers of the Sunday 
church school are ready to assume their duties, a public instal- 
lation service is appropriate to recognize that they are sharing 
in the teaching work of the church. 

The Board of Deacons 

Whether or not the choosing of the seven to handle the com- 
mon fund and serve the tables, as described in Acts 6, was the 
beginning of the office of deacon is a moot question. There 


is good reason to believe, however, that the biblical account 
was given for the purpose of explaining the beginning of the 
diaconate. In the situation depicted there, those who admin- 
istered the Word (the Twelve) were being compelled to neg- 
lect their pre-eminent responsibility by becoming too involved 
in routine matters. Consequently, seven men were chosen from 
the congregation to relieve the apostles of these other duties. 
This step did not indicate that "serving tables" was unim- 
portant. Indeed, the dispute which they were appointed to 
resolve was shattering the unity of the church. What it did 
mean was that those who had the special responsibility for 
ministering the Word should be freed to give full attention 
to that service for which they were best equipped. The pas- 
toral officers should be relieved of direct management of the 
temporal concerns of the church which can be handled by 
other members. 

The work of the deacons in the early church is not made 
very clear, although the requirements specified in 1 Timothy 3 
offer some clues to their duties. They apparently were expected 
to have oversight over the administration of finances, and 
particularly to supervise the distribution of relief to the poor. 
In general they took charge of the temporal affairs of the 
churches. It is not necessary, of course, to find a pattern of 
activity for this office and to imitate it slavishly, but again we 
find guiding principles in the functions which they performed. 

In keeping with the general function of the deacons, Bap- 
tists have regarded them as special assistants to the pastor. 
The qualifications for a deacon have been spiritual insight, 
trustworthiness, familiarity with the Scriptures, and adminis- 
trative ability. Into their hands has fallen the task of ad- 
ministering funds for aiding the needy within the church 
family and even beyond the actual fellowship of the church 
members. Traditionally, they have been responsible to visit 
the sick, initiate disciplinary measures, prepare elements for 
observance of the Lord's Supper, and have general oversight 
of all aspects of the church's life. In the absence of the pastor, 


deacons have been expected to take charge of some services 
and to see that the pulpit is supplied. When the pastoral office 
has been vacant, they have provided direction for the affairs of 
the church. 

With the multiplication of boards and committees to carry 
on the expanded programs of churches, there has been a tend- 
ency to diminish the area of responsibility of the deacons. 
Financial oversight has gradually been shifted to trustees, and 
special committees often look after evangelism and pulpit 
supply. Some churches have sought to utilize the Diaconate as 
the central board of the church to which all other boards and 
committees are subordinate, and to which all matters of vital 
concern to the congregation are brought for advice and ap- 
proval. Other churches have preferred to limit the functions 
of the deacons, and instead have developed an Advisory Board 
or Council to co-ordinate their work. Although there are sound 
reasons which commend the use of the Board of Deacons as a 
central committee, there are also good points about the Ad- 
visory Council. Whatever a church decides, it is important 
that the role of the deacons be defined as clearly as possible 
in the church constitution. 

The number of deacons necessary to a church depends upon 
the size of the congregation and the duties assigned to the 
diaconate. In a small church, two or three might be enough, 
whereas a larger church would need many more. If the 
deacons are to serve as a central committee, a larger number 
would be required than if their field of ministry were more 
narrowly defined. There should be enough so that the respon- 
sibilities which devolve upon them will not fall too heavily on 
individual deacons, and enough so that they can keep in touch 
with the entire membership. 

The deacon is not usually elected for life, although some 
churches have followed this practice. Since problems have 
sometimes been created by having officers who held life tenure, 
most churches have now adopted a system of rotation which 
allows a deacon to be re-elected until he has served a specified 


number of years. Then he must retire and cannot be re-elected 
until after the lapse of a year. On the whole, results have 
indicated that the rotation system is superior to life tenure, 
assuming that other suitable persons are available for the office. 

Should deacons be ordained? Such was formerly the usual 
practice, but there has been a tendency more recently to dis- 
card it. There would seem to be no more reason for ordaining 
deacons than for trustees, church school superintendent, and 
others. It is appropriate, however, to hold a service of recogni- 
tion to install deacons as well as those elected to other offices. 

There should be some women members on the Board of 
Deacons, although that point has been debated among Bap- 
tists. A long hesitancy to let women speak in church services 
kept them from serving in this capacity. In our society, how- 
ever, there seems to be no good reason why women should not 
be deacons, and there are good reasons why they should be. 
Besides taking part in the regular duties of the office, there are 
some services which they can render better than men. 

The Board of Trustees 

Qualifications for the position of trustee in a BaptisJ: church 
are similar to those for the deacon, and there is no warrant for 
the prevalent notion that spiritual discernment is less impor- 
tant for the former than the latter. In most states, a Board of 
Trustees is required by law, for property must be vested in 
them if a church is to be incorporated. In some churches, the 
deacons are designated as the trustees, but in most churches 
the trustees constitute a separate board. 

Until legislation was enacted by the states regarding in- 
corporation of churches, there was no office of trustee. At first, 
the trustees were merely figureheads, in whose names title to 
property was held, but gradually their responsibilities have 
broadened. It was natural to delegate to them responsibility 
for maintaining or improving church property, and ultimately 
many churches relegated all financial matters to this board. 


Not only real estate, but securities, cash, and other church 
assets are under their jurisdiction. 

In many churches the Board of Trustees must be consulted 
in all matters involving money and salaries, and in some in- 
stances they have assumed the prerogative of determining the 
minister's salary without action by the congregation. No doubt 
there must be some delegation of responsibility in this sphere, 
but the scope of the trustees should be clearly delimited, and 
care should be taken to insure that legal requirements are met. 

The church constitution should indicate the work and the 
authority of the Board of Trustees as of other offices, and it 
should make clear that the decisions of trustees as of other 
committees and boards are always subject to approval, veto, 
or modification by the congregation. It is therefore important 
that the Board of Trustees should make complete, accurate, 
and regular reports to the church. Most decisions will be made 
within the framework of a budget adopted by the church. 
(See also the section on the Finance Committee, page 79.) 
Matters not covered by the budgetary provisions should be re- 
ferred to a congregational meeting for the expression of its will. 

The Board of Christian Education 

Most American Baptist churches have a Board of Christian 
Education, designed to correlate the instructional work. It 
does not confine its interests to the Sunday church school, but 
includes within its scope of responsibilities all phases of Chris- 
tian education. These include children's, youth, and adult 
work, as well as missionary and stewardship education and 
leadership education. 

The Board of Christian Education will supervise and ad- 
minister the entire education program in the church. The fol- 
lowing list includes specific duties which represent the im- 
portant responsibilities to be assumed by the Board: 

Establish the objectives of the program 

Study the needs 

Determine the program 


Co-ordinate activities and projects 

Recruit, train, and appoint leaders 

Determine the curriculum 

Prepare and administer the education budget 

Provide adequate rooms and equipment 

Evaluate the program 

Develop an educational consciousness 

The size of this board will vary according to the membership 
of the congregation, but there should be enough persons so that 
attention can be given to all phases of the educational work. 
A minimum of six people should comprise the board; these 
would serve as chairman of the board, of missionary and 
stewardship education, of leadership education, of children's 
work, of youth work, and of adult work, respectively. All of 
these officers should be elected by the church, taking into con- 
sideration the specific responsibilities they are to exercise on 
the board, since they are called to do a work in which they 
represent the church in its teaching ministry. If there is a 
director of Christian education, he works in close co-operation 
with this board. All funds for the educational program of the 
church should be provided from the general treasury, and all 
regular offerings from the various organizations should go into 
that treasury. 

Whatever the size of a church there is a continuing need 
for better prepared leaders and teachers. A chief handicap of 
many churches is the inadequate supply of persons who can 
give leadership in its diversified programs. It is possible to 
strengthen its leadership, however, if training is provided to 
equip teachers and other leaders. No person should be chosen 
to any position unless he is willing to give time and effort to 
become competent in the work associated with his office. It 
is the responsibility of the Board of Christian Education to see 
that opportunities are afforded for teachers and workers of the 
church to receive help which will enable them to perform 
their services more efficiently. 


Local church programs of leadership education may deal 
with the content of our faith, or with teaching methods which 
can be individually applied to specific curriculum resources. 
More specialized training, such as departmental courses, can 
often best be done co-operatively on an association or com- 
munity basis. 

Therefore, the association should wherever possible serve as 
a unit for planning and conducting leadership training courses 
annually. In addition to the instruction offered locally, labora- 
tory schools are held under denominational auspices in most 
states and at the national assembly. Churches should encour- 
age their teachers to take advantage of opportunities to im- 
prove their knowledge and skills, and they should underwrite 
the expenses for at least one person to attend a laboratory 
school each year. 


Numerous other committees are needed for specific purposes, 
but their number and kind will vary with the size and needs 
of each church. Needless multiplication of organizations should 
be avoided, but there are aspects of the church's life which 
need the emphasis which a special committee can give to them. 
The duties of each committee ought to be clearly defined, and 
its purpose should be integral to the main mission of the 
church. When any organization no longer has a function which 
is clearly related to the purpose of the church, it should be 

Evangelism Committee. Evangelism is so closely linked with 
all that the church does that it cannot really be isolated as a 
separate activity. Yet the outreach in seeking to win men to 
accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord needs the attention of a 
specific committee. Through the committee the church is re- 
minded that its mission to the world is central to its whole life. 
Working with other committees, boards, and auxiliary organiza- 
tions, it can see that members are helped to know how they 
can be witnesses. The committee should also find practical 


ways to implement evangelistic concern. It should plan special 
evangelistic visitation and meetings through which the church 
tries to reach out to those outside of the church. It may also 
start mission Sunday schools where they are needed, and may 
help to start a new church. All appropriate means should be 
sought to help focus the attention of the church upon its 
evangelistic ministry. This committee should work in close co- 
operation with the Board of Christian Education. 

Missions Committees. Evangelism and missions are almost 
the same, but the latter term stresses the fact that the church 
commissions some of its number to represent it in proclaiming 
the gospel beyond its immediate locality. "Missionary" means 
one who is sent, and the word conveys to our minds the thought 
of those who go overseas to other people, or to classes of people 
with special problems in our own land. 

Ordinarily there are women's mission societies, but there is 
no good reason why missions should be the domain of women 
and girls. Missions are a concern of the whole church, and 
both men and women should be well informed about this work. 
Through schools of missions, women's societies, men's fellow- 
ships, youth fellowships, and adult study groups such instruc- 
tion should be offered. All members should become acquainted 
with the philosophy of missions, the particular problems and 
needs of modern missions, and the work of specific mission 

Baptist churches have a variety of practices concerning the 
administration of missionary work through committees. The 
American Baptist Convention recommends that there be two 
groups— (1) a committee on missionary and stewardship edu- 
cation, related to the Board of Christian Education through its 
chairman, who is a member of that board, and (2) a committee 
on world mission support, related to the Advisory Council. 
The former is primarily concerned with educational aspects of 
the work, the latter with promotional and financial aspects, 
and the two working in close co-operation. A Co-ordinated 
Plan Book, published by the American Baptist Convention, de- 


scribes this relationship and delineates the joint and separate 
responsibilities of the two committees. 

Alternate plans found in some churches involve the use of a 
board of missions or a single missionary committee. In such 
instances, it is very important that there be close working rela- 
tionships between these bodies and the Board of Christian 

Committee on Christian Social Concern. If the Christian is 
to be a witness in all of his roles and relationships, he must be 
able to relate his faith to social as well as personal issues. 
Therefore, the church program should provide information, 
encouragement, and channels through which the lordship of 
Christ may be acknowledged in family, community, nation, 
and world. Racial tensions, poverty and unemployment, world 
peace, alcoholism, narcotics addiction, religious liberty, and the 
ferment of revolutionary movements among peoples of other 
countries are a few of the problems which the Christian citizen 
faces. Although problems are so numerous and so complex as 
to make their solutions seem almost impossible, the Christian 
community is called to do what it can to express its answer to 
the perplexing questions. It cannot throw up its hands in 
despair and abdicate its responsibility. A church should have 
a committee responsible to see that relevant issues are brought 
to the congregation for consideration in some way. Literature 
can be provided for the members, and special programs can 
be planned where particular issues are presented and discussed. 
Special help is available to such committees from their denomi- 
national agencies. In the American Baptist Convention, re- 
quests for information should be addressed to the Division of 
Christian Social Concern, American Baptist Convention, Valley 
Forge, Pa. 19481. Also, the Baptist Joint Committee on Public 

ffairs, 1628 Sixteenth St., N.W., Washington, D. C. 20009, 

ill provide materials dealing with legislation affecting re- 
igious liberty and other matters of conscience. 

Communications Committee. If the members are to keep 
informed and in close touch with each other, good channels 


of communication are necessary. In part the church meeting 
will offer opportunity for keeping people in touch with the 
whole life of the church, as well as affording a means for all 
members to have a part in making policies and determining 
emphases of the church. The weekly bulletin is another means 
of disseminating information and keeping matters before the 
congregation, and preparation of this may be in the hands of 
a communications committee. Many churches have found it 
valuable to have also a bi-weekly or monthly church organ 
which gives an opportunity for the whole range of interests 
to be presented to all members of the church. The editor of 
such a church paper should be a member of the committee on 
communications. It is also the duty of such a committee to 
co-operate with other groups to help focus attention on special 
occasions and emphases, such as the school of missions, evan- 
gelistic meetings, and occasional lectures on social issues. Such 
a committee can help to interpret the purpose of the church 
to the community by means of radio, newspaper, tracts, and 
other means. 

Nominating Committee. This committee should be appointed 
early in the church year, since the choice of leaders is a matter 
which requires careful deliberation. It may well be a standing 
committee of the church, so that it will be able to make plans 
well in advance of the election of officers, and also to make 
recommendations for filling vacancies created between the 
annual elections. In making recommendations for any office, 
the nominating committee should work closely with Advisory 
Council or Board of Deacons (whichever serves as the central 
committee ) . 

Music Committee. The musical program is entrusted to the 
direction of this committee. The regular choir, as well as chil- 
dren's or youth choirs, are included within its responsibilities. 
Where there are paid organists, choir directors, or other music 
staff members, they also are under the supervision of the music 

Ushering Committee. Such a committee sees that ushers 


are provided for the regular worship services and any other 
occasions when they are needed. It is responsible to see that 
they are properly instructed in their duties. 

Finance Committee. It is the duty of this committee to pre- 
pare the annual budget to be submitted to the church, and it 
should work in close co-operation with the Advisory Council 
or Board of Deacons ( whichever is the co-ordinating committee 
of the church) in estimating budgetary needs. In addition to 
compiling the budget, it should plan and direct the Every 
Member Canvass. Some churches also delegate to the finance 
committee responsibility for oversight of the disbursements 
during the year. Under such circumstances, it is expected to 
see that expenditures stay within the budget, to check income 
to ascertain whether or not it is in line with estimates on which 
the budget was based, and to make arrangements for emer- 
gency items which may arise. In other churches the supervision 
of disbursements is the responsibility of the trustees. Whatever 
plan is used, the constitution should make clear the lines of 
responsibility and authority. 

Auditing Committee. The work of this committee is to make 
a check upon the financial records of the church at least once 
a year and report its findings to the church meeting. It should 
be composed of persons other than the treasurer, financial 
secretary, and the Board of Trustees. 

Pulpit Committee. When the pastoral office becomes vacant 
for any reason, a committee should be elected by the congrega- 
tion. The size of the committee will vary with the size of the 
membership, but it should be large enough to afford representa- 
tion of the main aspects of the church's life. The method of 
selecting such a representative committee differs considerably 
in Baptist churches, but the individual church should provide 
for a clear-cut system in its by-laws. Instructions for the guid- 
ance of pulpit committees are available at state or national 
convention headquarters. 

Other Committees. Additional committees or special organi- 
zations may become necessary to the fulfillment of a church's 


responsibilities, but unnecessary multiplication of agencies 
should be avoided. Every organized group in the church should 
have its objectives carefully scrutinized to see its place in the 
over-all purpose of the church. When societies or special agen- 
cies have outlived their usefulness, they should not be perpetu- 
ated. Those which make a significant contribution to the min- 
istry of the church should be encouraged, but those which 
serve no real purpose should be discontinued. There are too 
many demands upon time and energy to keep alive agencies 
which are irrelevant to, or at cross-purposes with, the aims of 
the church. 


Besides the church school, there are other organizations 
which play important roles in the nurture and training of 
church members. Among these are the Woman's Society, the 
Men's Fellowship, and the Baptist Youth Fellowship. These 
organizations should be the concern of the Board of Education, 
and they should also be represented on the Advisory Council. 
All church members should be considered members of these 
groups, and efforts should be made to enlist active interest and 
participation of everyone in their activities. Full information 
on the purpose and operation of each of these groups may be 
had by writing to the corresponding national office: National 
Council of American Baptist Women, American Baptist Men, 
and Department of Youth Work— all located at American Bap- 
tist Convention Headquarters, Valley Forge, Pa. 19481. 


Such a profusion of boards, committees, and other organiza- 
tions may result in disorder, or it may become a smoothly- 
operating church organization. It may indeed be the means 
by which the gifts of the Spirit are channeled to serve the 
whole body. A central committee is needed to co-ordinate the 
diverse interests into a harmonious church program. Some 
churches attempt to provide such co-ordination by means of 


an Advisory Council or Board composed of the officers of the 
church and of the various organizations, while others use the 
Board of Deacons as a central executive committee. 

There are some reasons for using the Diaconate for this 
function. In the first place it is an expansion of the earlier work 
of deacons as they were used in Baptist churches, for they 
were charged with assisting the pastor in general oversight of 
the life of the church. Assuming some administrative responsi- 
bilities and keeping in touch with the needs of the members, 
they freed the pastor for concentration upon his particular 
duties. Of more importance is the fact that the members of 
the Diaconate are elected by the congregation and are there- 
fore directly responsible to it. An Advisory Council is made up 
of persons chosen by each agency to represent it, and only 
indirectly can they be said to represent the church which has 
not elected them to such office. Where the church makes the 
Board of Deacons a co-ordinating body, it assigns one or two 
of its members to the Boards of Christian Education and 
Trustees and to the major committees. In this case, when 
deacons are elected, it is necessary to take into account the 
need for having among their number persons qualified to serve 
on the various boards, committees, and auxiliary organizations. 
Also, the Board of Deacons should be large enough that re- 
sponsibilities will not fall too heavily on any individual. 

If the church prefers to adopt the plan of using an Advisory 
Council, it should make sure that this body is kept responsible 
to the congregation. Its decisions are subject to the veto or 
approval of the church. The composition of such a council in- 
cludes all of the officers of the church, the chairmen of boards 
and committees, and the presidents of the auxiliary organiza- 
tions. To such a representative group is entrusted the respon- 
sibility of overseeing the total life of the church. It sees that 
the many interests and responsibilities of a church are ade- 
quately provided for in the church program, and it works the 
varied objectives into a coherent plan. A schedule of activities 
for the year is arranged by this council, and long-range studies 


of the ministry and needs of the church come under its 

In a congregational system like that of the Baptists, authority 
to make policy decisions should be in the hands of the church 
itself. It is easy to allow authority and responsibility to slip 
by default into the hands of a few leaders, so that the congre- 
gation has no real voice in determining the affairs of the 
church. Another danger is for boards, committees, and other 
organizations to act with little concern for the ultimate pur- 
pose of the church of Christ. When such developments occur, 
they are usually the result of the unwillingness of members to 
accept their full responsibility. Such outcomes are a denial of 
the congregational principle. It is imperative, therefore, that 
members understand the nature and purpose of the church 
and the meaning of their own Christian commitment. Other- 
wise a congregation cannot be a real worshiping and witness- 
ing fellowship. 

If a church is to be truly a ministering fellowship, a close 
relationship must be maintained between worship, the church 
meeting, and the agencies through which it acts. Decisions 
are not to be made solely on the basis of personal inclinations 
and opinions, but with a genuine desire to express the will of 
our Lord. Each committee, board, and agency must see itself 
as expressing the life of the church, a part of the whole, and 
the entire congregation must be kept informed as to what is 
being done. As new needs and new issues are raised, there 
must be discussion and consideration of the responsibility of 
the church in these matters. Without worship, instruction, 
devotion, and discipline, the church can easily degenerate into 
a merely human organization which deals only superficially 
with religious matters. 


Baptism and the Lord's Supper 

Since the Apostolic Age, baptism and the Lord's Supper 
have been recognized as practices which were commanded by 
Jesus Christ. By some these two acts have been called ordi- 
nances, while others prefer to use the term sacraments. Before 
proceeding to a consideration of baptism and the Lord's Sup- 
per, it may be useful to discuss which of these two terms 
should be used. Neither of them has the advantage of biblical 
sanction, for none of the scriptural writers employed them to 
refer to either of the two rites. Our judgment about these 
words will depend somewhat upon the way in which they are 
defined, but to some extent the overtones which the words 
carry in popular thought may make us prefer one above the 

Baptists in general prefer to speak of ordinances rather than 
of sacraments. There was a time when they were less hesitant 
to call the Lord's Supper a sacrament, and that term is still 
common among British Baptists. Opposition to the latter word 
arose from the fact that to many it seemed to imply an almost 
magical conception of the bestowal of divine power. 

For centuries a sacrament has been commonly defined as 
"an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace." 
In such a definition there is nothing offensive to Baptist doc- 
trine. Usage of the term by Roman Catholics as well as by 



some Protestants, however, conveys an impression which goes 
beyond that definition. It suggests that a sacrament is the 
means by which something is effected, and there is often a 
hint that God's grace is thereby dispensed by priests endowed 
with a special power. While official theologies may not deny 
the need for faith on the part of a recipient, actual practice 
often magnifies institutional control of God's grace and mini- 
mizes man's response. 

Should a word which is so easily misunderstood be avoided? 
It probably should be, if there were a more suitable alternative. 
But the word "ordinance" is also open to misunderstanding. To 
call baptism an ordinance is to say that it is something or- 
dained, or instituted, by Christ. Obedience to a command of 
the Lord is the primary emphasis in this term. Certainly we 
should give unquestioning obedience to Christ, but there is a 
danger that doing something for no other reason than that 
it is ordered may easily lead to legalism. We know that Christ 
had little patience with empty forms, and we may well believe 
that there was purpose in his bidding us to observe these spe- 
cial rites. In both baptism and the Lord's Supper, God's grace 
and man's response of faith are closely related, and we need 
terms which will help us to keep aware of both of these poles. 

In the final analysis it is not so important which of the terms 
we use. We may use either of them, or we may choose to 
employ neither. We may think it best simply to speak of bap- 
tism and of the Lord's Supper without resorting to any word 
which comprehends them both. It is important, however, that 
we understand their purpose in order that our observance of 
them will be so clothed with meaning that they may speak 
to us. After a brief discussion of the value of symbols, we shall 
turn to an interpretation of these two ordinances or sacraments. 


There is a tendency among Baptists to minimize the im- 
portance of signs and symbols, and that attitude is reflected in 
our approach to the two sacred observances we are consider- 


ing. If a thing is only symbolic of reality, we say, why not 
take what is real and discard what is symbolic? Thus we may 
speak of baptism and the Lord's Supper as "mere symbols," 
and the adjective shows our low evaluation of symbols. 

This disparagement of symbols indicates a lack of under- 
standing of their value in human communication. For a sign 
or symbol not only points to some reality, but it may also be 
the means of communicating ideas and awakening responses. 
A symbol rings a bell, as it were, which calls to mind a whole 
cluster of associated events and meanings. Not only does it 
speak to the mind, but it calls forth emotions and may lead 
to decisions and actions. 

Symbols as Means of Communication 

Symbols are of many kinds, and they are used in all spheres 
of human life. We know how the American flag, under certain 
circumstances, may arouse deep feelings of pride, joy, patri- 
otism, and exultation. It can do so because it brings to mind 
a whole series of thoughts and meanings, and thus has power 
to awaken a response in our feelings and actions. 

Not only do symbols stir our memories and emotions, but 
they may be the means of transmitting something from one 
person to another. A handshake, for instance, is nothing more 
than a casual custom by which we greet acquaintances or 
friends. A handshake on occasion, however, communicates 
feelings too deep for words. When a friend has been bereaved 
of a loved one, and we hardly know what to say, we may 
grasp his hand, and in that handclasp we express unuttered 
thoughts and feelings. Thus a handshake communicates some- 
thing of ourselves. A mother's kiss is also a symbolic act. But 
it is an act which conveys something of her affection and con- 
cern, and by it a child is reassured and made to feel secure. 
Surely we should not treat symbols carelessly, for they com- 
municate and may even participate in the reality which they 

What is true in ordinary human affairs is true in the realm 


of religion. Here, too, are symbols through which intangible 
and unseen realities are communicated to us. The power of 
God is mediated to men through symbols, and through such 
signs something of deep mystery is apprehended by us, which 
goes beyond our ability to explain in words. It is of such 
things that our fathers spoke when they talked of "the means 
of grace." The reading of the Scriptures, prayer, preaching, 
the singing of hymns, family devotions— all were regarded as 
means by which grace was communicated. 

Baptism and the Lord's Supper as Symbols 

Included among the means of grace were baptism and the 
Lord's Supper. These were symbols, but Baptists did not dis- 
parage them by speaking of them as "mere symbols." The same 
God who had deigned to act in human history, to bring the 
Incarnate Son of God to birth in a stable, had ordained that 
other elements of our common life should be means through 
which he acted. Through immersion in water and through the 
eating of simple bread and wine, men could be made more 
aware of God's presence and power. 

It is not necessary to think of these acts as being channels 
through which God automatically communicates himself to 
those who take part in them. Baptists have always been sure 
that it is possible for a person to be baptized without having 
been affected by the experience. It is equally possible that 
some persons may eat and drink at the Lord's Table without 
being changed in any way by their act. On the other hand, 
these vividly symbolic actions may be the means through 
which the Holy Spirit speaks and acts. Therefore, they have 
been ordained by our Lord as special ritual observances. "By 
the administration of baptism and the Lord's Supper, prayer, 
and other means appointed of God, faith is increased and 
strengthened," says the Philadelphia Baptist Confession. In 
other words, God works through these signs. Since the same 
article also states that faith is wrought by the Spirit, it seems 


evident that baptism and the Lord's Supper were regarded as 
means of grace. 

Although these symbols go beyond the intellect in reaching 
the inner depths of man's being, they have a certain intellectual 
content. An appreciation of their meaning is important if one 
is to participate in them intelligently. There is constant danger 
that both of these ordinances may be reduced to empty forms, 
and that they may be treated with indifference. Hence we 
should seek to understand their significance. 


The act of baptism has been interpreted in a variety of ways 
in the history of the church. In general there are two tenden- 
cies which characterize the diverse interpretations. On the one 
hand are those persons who emphasize the ceremony as a 
means by which God does something to a passive human being. 
On the other are those who stress man's active role in the 
baptismal act. Within the former group there is wide diversity. 
These viewpoints range from a belief that sins are actually 
washed away by this act, to the conviction that it is a sign and 
seal of God's covenant whereby God reassures man of the 
truth of his Word. Those who stress baptism as something 
done by men also offer several explanations. They see it as a 
testimony to the world, a confession to God, a means of stirring 
those baptized to more vivid reflection upon God's dealings 
with them, or a simple act of obedience to a specific command. 
At one extreme, therefore, are persons who believe that with- 
out baptism one is lost eternally, while at the other extreme 
are those who think that the act of baptism is completely un- 

Baptist Concept of Baptism 

While Baptists have sought to keep in sight both God's 
grace and man's response, the primary tendency has been to 
emphasize baptism as an act of obedience in which men 
respond to God. But even when so understood, baptism is 


closely related to what God has done in Christ. For what we 
say and do in baptism rests upon God's gracious act in Jesus 
Christ, and signifies our identification with him in his death on 
our behalf. In this way baptism recapitulates the whole Chris- 
tian story and thus may become a means of grace. 

Andrew Fuller, an influential Baptist theologian, described 
baptism as "an act by which we declare before God, Angels, 
and men, that we yield ourselves to be the Lord's; that we are 
dead to the world . . . and risen again to 'newness of life.' " 
Calling baptism the "initiatory ordinance of Christianity," he 
likened it to a soldier's oath of allegiance and to a military 
uniform. The analogy of an oath is a reminder that in baptism 
we are saying something to God, while the idea of a uniform 
suggests that our confession to God is made before men. By 
an oath a soldier pledges his loyal service to a nation, and 
wearing a uniform identifies him as one committed to such 
special service. Likewise, baptism is a means in which we 
yield ourselves to God, and the fact that it is done publicly 
makes it a sign to the world that we are members of Christ's 
church. Both of these aspects of baptism are essential to our 
understanding of it. 

Thus, Baptists are numbered among those who think of 
baptism as primarily a response made by man. In baptism a 
person signifies his repentance toward God, his trust in God's 
mercy, and his surrender to obey God's will. As the baptism 
of Jesus was a public acknowledgment of his submission to the 
Father's will, so the Christian's baptism is a public acknowledg- 
ment of his submission to the judgment and will of God. This 
repentance and faith are expressed to God, but the act takes 
place in the presence of the church and the world. While bap- 
tism is man's response, it is closely related to the grace of God. 
The fact that it is a response implies that God's grace is prior 
to baptism, for only because God has acted in Christ is there 
a basis for our responding to him. It should be remembered 
also that baptism .is the act which Christ designated as the 


appropriate means by which such public confession to God 
should be made. 

The baptism which is a confession to God before men is 
more than the private affair of an individual with God. It is 
administered in the context of the church by whose representa- 
tives the candidate is baptized. Those who have witnessed to 
him and have led him to accept Christ as Savior and Lord are 
now administering baptism in Christ's name. In administering 
this rite, then, the visible church is involved as a witness both 
to the grace of God and to the repentance and faith of the 
person baptized, and it simultaneously receives him into its 
fellowship. He who has already been accepted by Christ into 
his invisible church is thus publicly admitted into the visible 
church in the place where he is baptized. 

There has been endless debate over whether or not some- 
thing is effected in an individual who is baptized. Does some- 
thing happen to the person? Is he regenerated in the waters of 
baptism? Does he receive the Holy Spirit at that particular 
time? It is the view of Baptists that the baptized person has 
already become regenerate by the work of the Spirit prior to 
baptism, and that baptism is a public acknowledgment of that 
fact. Having already repented and confessed his faith in 
Christ, he has been received by Christ into his church. Now 
in baptism he is confessing publicly what has already been 
confessed in private. Therefore, the act of baptism does not 
make a man regenerate. 

According to the record in the Book of the Acts, newly bap- 
tized persons often received an inward power which they 
identified with a reception of the Spirit (e.g., Acts 8:14-17; 
9:17-19; 19:5-6). In at least one instance, however, people 
were baptized because they had already received the Spirit 
(Acts 10:47). Therefore, one should not link such reception 
inseparably to a human act which is administered by the 
church. That is to say, baptism is not inevitably accompanied 
by some purifying or renewing power of God. The church 
cannot guarantee that the performance of baptism will be 


followed by the imparting of divine grace. God's grace, or 
divine power, is not within the control of the institutional 
church, and it cannot be manipulated by its representatives. 

Does it follow that nothing significant takes place in bap- 
tism? Such a conclusion is not implied in what has been said. 
The fact that baptism does not wash away sins, nor effect re- 
generation, nor necessarily bring the bestowal of the Holy 
Spirit, does not leave it an empty form. Indeed, baptism may 
and ought to be an experience of rich, spiritual blessing. When, 
in accord with God's command, we come before God confess- 
ing our sins, expressing our trust, and submitting our lives to 
holy obedience, then our lives are more open to God's activity 
than at ordinary times. On such an occasion one should have 
a heightened awareness of God's presence and power. There- 
fore, we may speak of baptism as a means of grace. However, 
we should not presume to guarantee that God will act in any- 
one's life simply because we have performed a particular ritual. 

To regard baptism in this fight keeps grace and faith in a 
dynamic relationship. God's grace takes the initiative, and man 
responds. When man responds in repentance and faith, and is 
receptive to God's will, there is an openness for the Spirit of 
God to work more freely in that life. 

On the other hand, if he so emphasizes the human aspect of 
baptism that he loses sight of its connection with God's grace, 
then baptism may come to appear as a useless ceremony. 
Following this tendency, Baptists have sometimes treated bap- 
tism with indifference. Emphasizing the human aspect so as 
to separate it too much from God's grace, they have not pre- 
pared people to experience it in a meaningful way. In reacting 
against the claims of other people, they have often been so 
busy declaring what baptism is not, that they have neglected to 
make clear what it should be. We will do well to invest the 
rite with the fullness of its New Testament significance, so that 
it will have meaning for those who are baptized. 

Baptism, then, may be thought of as a rite ordained by 
Christ as the means by which his disciples are to express the 


humble confession, the faith, and the willing obedience re- 
quired of them. Jesus himself experienced baptism as a public 
testimony of his submission to the will of the Father, and thus 
instituted it as a ceremony for his church. In his final instruc- 
tions to his disciples, he included "baptize" among their re- 
sponsibilities, and the church understood this baptismal act to 
be a binding obligation upon all Christians. 

The Subjects of Baptism 

Inasmuch as baptism is related to repentance and faith, Bap- 
tists have normally practiced believers' baptism rather than 
infant baptism. They have held that New Testament examples 
and theological significance both favor the restriction of the 
rite to persons capable of making a conscious commitment. 
Nevertheless, during the course of history the baptism of in- 
fants became an accepted practice among Christians of other 
denominations, so that today the great majority of Christians 
have been so baptized. Therefore, Baptists have had to face 
the question as to whether they will give a limited approval 
to infant baptism. Some have taken a position that it may be 
defended on theological grounds as a distorted but possible 
form of baptism. 1 

Instead of baptizing infants, Baptists often dedicate such 
children to God. In such a service, parents and congregation 
publicly express their acceptance of the responsibility to offer 
every help and encouragement to their child, seeking to lead 
him to become a committed Christian in later years. There is 
value in such a special ceremony, which impresses upon home 
and church alike the importance of co-operation in providing 
Christian nurture. Nevertheless, since the dedication service 
involves an acknowledgment of responsibility by parents, it 
should be held only if at least one of the parents is known to 
be living a responsible Christian life. To dedicate children as 
a matter of course, regardless of the faith and life of the par- 
ents, would make the service an empty form. 

1 See Supra, pp. 40-41, 42-45. 


The Mode of Baptism 

Baptists are also on firm ground when they insist upon im- 
mersion as the most appropriate form of baptism. That it was 
the usual way in which the primitive churches baptized is 
clearly indicated both by the use of the Greek word baptizo 
(meaning "to dip or submerge") and by the context of state- 
ments about the performance of baptism in specific cases. 

Also, as a symbol it is a pictorial and dramatic representa- 
tion of what is taking place. Coming before God acknowledg- 
ing that we are sinners, helpless to save ourselves, we cast 
ourselves upon God's mercy. When we are baptized, we are 
not just saying that we have resolved to change our way of 
living. Rather, we are recognizing that our hope is in Christ. 
Being identified with him in his death and burial, we hope to 
share in the resurrection of which he was the first-fruits. It 
is because of Christ that we have the boldness to seek God's 
forgiveness and the gift of new life. Thus baptism both points 
to the grace of God which precedes all human action, and is 
a means of expressing our response to God's mercy. Besides 
expressing our repentance and faith, baptism also signalizes our 
obedience to Christ as Lord; for obedience in this act symbol- 
izes our surrender of our total lives to follow his will. 

Pointing to the central facts of the Incarnation, immersion 
pictorially expresses our own identification with Christ in his 
death, burial, and resurrection. It signifies the radical change 
which has been wrought by God, whereby we have become 
dead to sin and alive to Christ. For such a decisive event, im- 
mersion is a more expressive and appropriate form than either 
pouring or sprinkling. The latter methods become symbols of 
~a symbol, and are inadequate signs of that to which they point. 

Although immersion is indeed defensible as the most suitable 
means of baptizing, we need to be cautious not to overempha- 
size the amount of water used in baptism. A great deal more 
imagination is required to make either pouring or sprinkling 
symbolize an identification with Christ in his death and resur- 
rection, but even a poor symbol may be used to express that 


which baptism signifies. There are undoubtedly cases where 
persons who are aged or infirm ought not to be immersed, and 
they should not be denied the opportunity to make a public 
confession in baptism. In such cases, pouring may be an ac- 
ceptable substitute. Since the reality which is symbolized is 
the most important thing, and since a poor symbol may be used 
to express that reality, we ought not to stress the form so much 
as to make us lose our perspective. In our ordinary practice, 
however, immersion ought always to be employed. 

If immersion is to be a high point of the Christian s experi- 
ence, two things are necessary. First, there must be sufficient 
instruction prior to the act, so that the person knows what he 
is doing. Second, baptism should be performed with decency 
and care so that the experience may not be marred by awk- 
ward incidents. 

Baptism should be preceded by sufficient instruction to en- 
sure that the person baptized understands the nature and 
implications of the commitment which he has made. The 
amount of such teaching will vary according to the back- 
ground of the persons involved. Usually, more time must be 
given to children than to adults; and more attention will be 
necessary for people on mission fields who are coming directly 
out of paganism than for those who have been reared in the 
church and a Christian family. Always, however, there should 
be a pastor's or discipleship class for the instruction of converts. 
The extensiveness of the training will be determined by the 
needs of the situation. 

The Role of the Church in Baptism 

Who should be the administrator of baptism? Baptists have 
assigned such responsibility to ordained ministers as a part of 
the pastoral office. For the same reason that certain other func- 
tions are delegated to such leaders, baptism ought to be per- 
formed by those who hold special pastoral office. This require- 
ment does not imply that the pastor has any special power to 
effect something which others could not. It is a matter of doing 


things in an orderly fashion. To permit persons to baptize in- 
discriminately would lead to carelessness and confusion which 
would be injurious to the practice of baptism. There may be 
instances where a pastor is not available, but such cases would 
be most infrequent. If such should be the case, a church might 
appoint some deacon to baptize, but it would be preferable to 
seek the help of a neighboring pastor. Only if it has exhausted 
the possibilities of getting help should it resort to the use of 
unordained persons, for such a precedent opens the way to 
practices which could be unwholesome for the life of the 

A question which is sometimes raised is whether a person 
should be baptized when he has no intention of affiliating with 
a local church. It is hard to conceive of a case in which such 
baptism would be proper. Since baptism represents public 
affirmation of repentance and faith, and surrender of life to 
God, signifying identification with Christ, it means that one is 
incorporated into the body of Christ. It is inconceivable that 
one who is becoming a member of Christ's church should not 
wish immediately to become a member of a visible church. In- 
difference toward the visible church reflects a serious lack of 
understanding of the nature of Christian commitment and of 
the place of the church in God's economy. Where such mis- 
understanding exists, further instruction is needed before 
baptism is administered. Although baptism is not primarily an 
initiation service, it signifies an identification with Christ which 
is equivalent to incorporation into his body, the church. To be 
received by Christ into the Church Universal should inevitably 
lead to identification with the visible church. For it is in and 
through the churches that God's Spirit especially works for 
man's redemption. 


The other ordinance, or sacrament, of the church is the 
Lord's Supper. Baptism is a decisive, once-for-all event, which 
marks the entrance into a new life in Christ. The Lord's Supper 


is intended to be repeated frequently, and symbolizes the sus- 
taining of that life by Christ. One denotes the beginning of 
a new relationship, and the other the maintaining of a vital 
relationship between Christ and the church. 

As in the case of baptism, the passage of time since New 
Testament days has brought a bewildering diversity of views 
among Christians in general concerning the meaning of this 
rite. Some believe that the bread and wine change into the 
actual flesh and blood of the Savior, and that the actual body 
of Christ is eaten. At the other extreme are those who empha- 
size that the elements are simply signs which remind us of 
bygone events. Some, therefore, expect something of an almost 
magical nature to take place in the ritual; others do not expect 
anything to happen in the eating of the bread and wine. What 
does the rite signify? Although there may be many facets of 
meaning, some one idea must be central. Only a few passages 
of the New Testament directly refer to this supper, several of 
which are parallel accounts in the different gospels. In three 
or four other places indirect reference is made. On the basis 
of very scant statements concerning this ritual, theories have 
been formed to interpret the rite which Christ instituted on the 
night of his betrayal. 

Baptist Understanding of the Lord's Supper 

Baptists have usually stressed the fact that the Lord's Sup- 
per is a memorial meal. Too often we have been inclined to 
say that it is a "mere memorial," as though it has little value 
for the church. To be sure, the casual way in which it is some- 
times observed indicates the low regard in which it is often 
held. There is no reason, however, to use the disparaging word 
"mere" in connection with it. 

Very close to the center of its meaning is the significant fact 
that it is intended as a memorial. To say that it is a memorial, 
though, does not mean simply that it points backward to 
ancient history. It is not just a sign which points to a historical 
event, as does the Fourth of July. The latter day is set apart to 


remind a nation of its roots; its celebration recalls a declaration 
of principles of freedom. The intent of such an occasion is to 
inspire its celebrants to similar courage and highmindedness. 
Something like this spirit is involved in the Lord's Supper, but 
the Supper is more than that. 

The Lord's Supper is more nearly analogous to the Passover 
Feast of the Jews. That ritual meal, which was observed each 
year, also pointed to the past. When a family sat around the 
table eating, the head of the household reminded the others of 
the reason for its annual observance, saying in effect that this 
meal is a reminder of the time when the Lord God delivered 
their forefathers out of the land of Egypt. However, the re- 
cital of past events was not made just in order to arouse their 
heroism and loyalty. Reminded of what God had done once, 
they were to recall that the God of their Fathers was also the 
God of the children: "The God of Isaac and Jacob is our God." 
This meal was a means of helping them to maintain their 
identity and continuity as the covenant people of God. 

In a similar way the Lord's Supper is intended to remind the 
church of the foundation upon which it rests, for in the Lord's 
Supper we see depicted the mighty acts of God in Christ. The 
elements of bread and wine point to the body and blood of 
Christ. As visible symbols which reinforce the gospel preached 
in words, they remind Christians of the Incarnation, of which 
the high points were death, burial, resurrection, and exaltation. 
These events signify God's deliverance of man from bondage 
to sin, and they recall to the church that it was Christ who was 
the reason for their existence. In looking back to the origins 
from which Christians have sprung, they remember that Christ 
is still their living Lord. They are encouraged to remember 
what God has done, in order to be made more vividly aware 
of what God is continuing to do, and what he has promised 
yet to do. 

Recalling the past in order to be reminded of the existing 
situation is therefore more than a "mere memorial." The back- 
ward look leads immediately to the present and future. It is 


an important means of helping the church to remember its 
identity as the people of God, and Christ's promise to be with 
tl^em to the end of the age. The remembrance of what God 
has done is thus a preparatory step to a fresh confrontation 
with the living God who is in their midst working out his pur- 
poses in and through them. It reminds them of their de- 
pendence upon the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Bread of 
Life by which its life must be sustained daily. 

Close to the center of the meaning of this memorial rite are 
four related ideas: covenant, church, Christ, and communion. 
Pointing to the work of the incarnate Christ, Christians speak 
of the New Covenant sealed with his blood. "This cup is the 
new covenant in my blood" (1 Cor. 11:25), Jesus is reported 
to have said to his disciples, as he bade them to drink it. This 
covenant, like that with Israel, is not an agreement between 
equals, but an offer made by God to men who could not save 
themselves. It was an offer of pardon and power which could 
be freely received by those who were willing to accept it with 
gratitude and faith. 

The mention of the covenant immediately suggests a people 
who are the covenant people of God, the church. As Israel was 
constituted through the Old Covenant, so the church is the 
people whose existence rests upon the New. When the people 
of the church gather around the Lord's Table, therefore, they 
partake of a covenant meal, by which they are reminded of 
their identity as a people called by God, his purchased posses- 
sion, and an instrument for his purpose. 

At the head of this church, or covenant people, is Jesus 
Christ the Lord. He who once lived among men in a visible 
form is now in the midst of his people wherever they are 
gathered. The Holy Spirit makes Christ contemporary to each 
gathered congregation in every generation. To meet together 
and be reminded of their identity as a covenant people is to 
recognize the real presence of Christ in their midst; it is to re- 
member that God always stands over against them in judgment 
and in mercy. 


The church so gathered and so engaged is in communion 
with one another and with Christ. Partaking of the meal is a 
reminder that they are participants in the new life in Christ, 
that they are not isolated individuals each in search of God in 
his own way, but sharers in the fellowship of the Spirit. "The 
cup of blessing which we bless," wrote Paul, "is it not a partici- 
pation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it 
not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one 
loaf, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the 
same loaf" (ICor. 10:16-17). 

In this service as in baptism, God's grace and man's faith 
are in close union. The elements of the supper depict in vivid 
fashion the redemptive action of God in Christ. By them we 
are reminded of the Incarnation— the life, death, resurrection, 
exaltation, and promised return of Jesus Christ. This look at 
what took place in history reminds us that these events have 
become a part of our own history, for we have accepted the free 
forgiveness of God and have responded to his call to be his 
people. We are reminded who we are and what we are to be 
and to do. United with Christ and with one another, we are 
not a loose collection of individuals but a fellowship of be- 
lievers who have a corporate existence as the church of Jesus 

To see in this supper, then, a memorial rite is not to rob it 
of meaning. A service which helps the church to a realization 
of its own identity and reminds it of its call to live responsibly 
before Christ has significance. Although it is primarily a 
memorial symbol, emphasizing covenant, church, Christ, and 
communion, there are many other derivative ideas associated 
with it. Surely it is an occasion for rejoicing and for thanks- 
giving—it is thus a eucharist. 2 Although it is not a re-enactment 
of the sacrifice of Christ, but a reminder of the sacrifice offered 
by him once-for-all, it does become a time when we offer our- 
selves anew to God. While not primarily an occasion for seek- 

2 From the Greek eucharistos, meaning "grateful." 


ing forgiveness of sins, it does invite self-examination and 

When the Lord's Supper is observed as it should be, it leads 
to fresh encounter between Christ and his people. No more 
than in baptism can we manipulate or dispense God's grace, for 
his divine power is beyond our control. Nevertheless, in the 
moment of our remembering who we are as the church of God, 
our spirits are quickened. As we remember what God has done, 
what he continues to do, and what he will do, our conscious- 
ness of the divine presence is strengthened. If God thus 
vouchsafes to us the assurance of his presence and power, this 
service becomes for us a means of grace. 

Early Baptists had a conception of the Lord's Supper which 
made its character as a memorial pre-eminent, but they also 
believed that Christ was truly present to the believers in that 
meal. The Particular Baptists expressed their view of the 
Lord's Supper as something more than a look back to past 
events. In the supper, they averred: 

Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements in 
this ordinance, do then also inwardly by faith, really and indeed, 
yet not carnally and corporally but spiritually, receive and feed 
upon Christ crucified and all the benefits of his death— the Body 
and Blood of Christ, being then not corporally or carnally but 
spiritually, present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the 
elements themselves are to their outward senses. 3 

Here is the backward look, but its purpose is to remind of 
present relationships and responsibility. Participation in the 
Lord's Supper rekindles faith and results in a fresh meeting 
between Christ and his church. 

Some Practical Questions Regarding the Lord's Supper 

A number of practical questions relative to the observance of 
the Lord's Supper frequently arise. How often should it be 
celebrated? Is it to be confined to the use of a local congrega- 
tion, or can it be held in larger gatherings? Should the ele- 

3 Lumpkin, op. tit., page 293. 


ments be taken to private homes for observance of the rite? 
Should the administration of this ordinance be only by or- 
dained persons? Is open or closed communion more consistent 
with our Baptist doctrine? 

The Lord's Supper is a church ordinance, and we must be 
careful to see that its observance is consistent with its meaning 
and purpose. However, Christ gave little or no instruction 
about the way in which it should be conducted. Therefore, 
we must make our deductions about this service from our 
understanding of the church and of the nature of this cere- 

Above all, the connection of this supper with the church 
should be kept in sight. As the Passover Feast was linked to 
the Israel of the Old Covenant, so the Lord's Supper is closely 
associated with the church as God's covenant people. This rite 
signifies the New Covenant ratified by Christ's vicarious death, 
and its observance should always be such that it will empha- 
size the presence of Christ in his covenant community. As 
these central factors are kept clear, the covenant meal will 
contribute to the deepening of the fellowship within the Chris- 
tian community, as the members look to Christ the head of 
the church. 

The Lord's Supper ought always to be an integral part of the 
worship service and should be accompanied by the preached 
word. The bread and the cup are visible signs which represent 
the same thing as the preached gospel, and the visual elements 
and the actions serve to reinforce the preaching. To separate 
the Supper from the sermon is to invite a superstitious attitude 
toward the rite, for history has demonstrated the ease with 
which people can give an almost magical meaning to it. It is 
not a sacred mystery in which some divine power is imparted 
by the very eating and drinking. No attempt should be made 
to create an atmosphere of deep solemnity, which would invest 
this occasion with some dignity different from that of other 
worship services. There should be a quiet reverence in any 
meeting where a congregation gathers to worship the Lord, 


but no extra solemnity should characterize this service. Indeed 
it is a joyous occasion, and a time of thanksgiving, when God's 
people join in a meal reminding them of their origins and 

There is no rule about the frequency with which the Supper 
should be observed. Baptist practice has varied from holding 
it every week to holding it every quarter of a year. There are 
good reasons for observing it each week, but considerations of 
time make that frequency difficult. Also, it is true that some- 
thing repeated too often may lose its power to speak to us. 
Probably once a month is a suitable practice. The important 
thing is that it should be held regularly and that careful atten- 
tion be given to interpret its meaning to a congregation. 

Should the Lord's Supper be confined to the local church? 
There are many who would so restrict it, but there is no good 
reason for such a limitation. If the church were visible only 
in local congregations, there would be grounds for saying that 
the local church is the only place to celebrate such a church 
ordinance. However, the church is larger than the local con- 
gregation, and the representatives of churches gathered in a 
meeting may also be considered the church. 

Nevertheless, when we have agreed that there are other 
places where the Lord's Supper may legitimately be held, the 
question will be raised as to where the lines are to be drawn. 
Should a pastor carry a little bag which contains bread and 
wine and administer the Supper to his parishioners in the hos- 
pital and in the homes? Some Baptists have begun such a prac- 
tice in imitation of other denominations. The practice of 
holding communion services for a wedding party or other spe- 
cial gathering has not been unheard of, and communion serv- 
ices have been held at men's or women's meetings. It was 
once Baptist practice in some areas to have a communion serv- 
ice at an associational meeting, and on occasion special services 
are held at a seminary or college. Are all of these appropriate 
or not? 

After considerable study of the Lord's Supper, a group of 


British Baptists concluded that "occasional communion" was 
proper under certain circumstances other than in local 
churches. They formulated principles which would guide them 
in determining when such a service would be appropriate. The 
first requirement is that a gathering of Christians should be 
very clearly met for such purposes as indicate the churchly 
character of their meeting. Second, the meeting should be of 
a kind where it is fitting that those present should profess their 
Christian faith and obedience in an act of corporate worship 
at the Lord's Table. Third, the situation should be such that 
the observance can be carried on in reverence and seriousness. 

Accordingly, an associational meeting might be a very appro- 
priate place for holding the Lord's Supper; so might a state or 
national convention, although the difficulties of having a rever- 
ent service in a convention hall might present a problem. 
Whether men's brotherhoods or women's groups should meet 
for communion breakfasts is a question which would have to 
be decided on the basis of the tests fisted above. Hard and fast 
rules cannot be made for such matters. However, it is not at 
all appropriate for a private couple or a wedding party to have 
a service of this kind. 

There still remains the question of taking communion serv- 
ices to those who are ill at home or in the hospital. Is such 
a practice appropriate? If this is an ordinance intended to 
deepen the church's experience of Christ's presence and to 
strengthen its sense of identity as the church, then the pastor 
should not carry a little container around to serve communion 
personally to individuals. Not only does such a practice con- 
vey a false idea of the church; it also tends to encourage super- 
stitious reverence for the Lord's Supper, obscuring its real 

However, there are undoubtedly persons who by circum- 
stances beyond their control are deprived of an opportunity 
to participate in the services of the church. It would seem 
that some provision should be made to extend the fellowship 
of the church to them beyond the walls of a meeting house. 


Therefore, it is proper for services to be held in the home of 
a shut-in, if proper care is taken to make this a service of the 
church. The pastor ought not to go to such an occasion alone, 
but should take the deacons and perhaps others who represent 
the church. In connection with the service, there should be 
a prayer, a Scripture lesson, and a brief message which will 
interpret and prepare for the memorial meal. When thus safe- 
guarded, the Lord's Supper is kept in line with its intent. 

Whether there should be an ordained minister officiating at 
such a service is another practical question. Baptists have usu- 
ally insisted that unless such an ordained person was present 
there should be no observance of the Lord's Supper. Indeed, 
there are instances in which Baptist churches have gone for 
a year or two without such an observance because there was 
no pastor who could conveniently be with them for the occa- 
sion. Such a circumstance would not be likely today, for there 
is usually someone near enough at hand to help in such a 

The reason for insisting upon ordination as a requisite for 
administering the Lord's Supper is to keep it from being treated 
carelessly. Baptists have felt that allowing other persons to lead 
such a service could set a precedent which would open the 
door to anyone to do so. However, it does not seem necessary 
to be so strict that no exceptions can be made to the general 
rule. Certainly the church is responsible to see that due serious- 
ness and reverence are shown toward the observance, and 
it carries out that responsibility in part by delegating the 
leadership of the service to a proper person. Ordinarily the 
pastor or another ordained man should conduct the Lord's 
Supper, and it is rare that provision cannot be made to get 
outside help. However, in cases of necessity, a church may 
vote to approve some unordained man to take charge— a deacon 
or a theological student not yet ordained, but already preach- 
ing. In such cases, care should be taken to select someone who 
is fitted in spirit, character, and ability to take the lead in a 
service of this kind. 


The question of open or closed communion once agitated 
the Baptist churches deeply. Until the last decade or two of 
the nineteenth century, very few Baptist churches would allow 
persons who had not been immersed upon a profession of faith 
to take communion with them. They reasoned that baptism 
ought to precede participation in the Lord's Supper; all 
churches, they said, hold that unbaptized persons must not 
take communion. However, as Baptists saw the matter, pedo- 
baptists are not really baptized. Therefore the churches felt 
they had no alternative but to refuse to join with such people 
at the Lord's Table. 

This refusal was often a matter of regret and of embarrass- 
ment to Baptists. They were troubled about their practice of 
closed communion, for they regarded as Christian brethren 
many whom they could not admit to their communion service. 
Sometimes, even a man of another denomination who supplied 
their pulpit was unable to share in the communion service. 

Gradually there has been a breaking away from closed com- 
munion, for there does seem to be an inconsistency in refusing 
to commune with those whom we believe to be fellow-Chris- 
tians. There are two grounds on which open communion may 
be rationalized. On the one hand, one may say that there 
is no biblical requirement which stipulates that one must be 
baptized prior to taking part in the Lord's Supper. Therefore 
those who give evidence of being Christians may come to the 
Lord's Table even though they are not really baptized. By 
an alternative line of reasoning, one may say that although 
infant baptism is not baptism, yet infant baptism plus con- 
firmation may be accepted as a faulty form of baptism. On 
either of these bases one may argue for open communion. At 
any rate there is a discrepancy between accepting persons as 
brothers and sisters in Christ but refusing to sit at the Lord's 
Table with them. In the North the practice of open com- 
munion is now almost universal among Baptists, and in many 
parts of the South it is also common. 


The Baptist Association 


existing between the idea of the universal church and that of 
individual local c on gre Rations. In attempting to define the 
relationship between these two entities, some Protestants had 
separated them in such a way as to set them in contrast to 
each other. The universal church was treated as so invisible 
that it had little bearing; upon the actual churches; local con- 
gregations, on the other hand, were so strongly emphasized as 
to make the universal church seem to be nothing more than a 
pure abstraction. 

Early Baptists tried to avoid such a sharp cleavage. They 
maintained first of all that "the holy catholic church" becomes 
visible in particular churches. According to this concept, each 
congregation of professing Christians is an outcropping of the 
larger church, the local expression of the larger church. By 
attempting to maintain regenerate church membership, these 
Baptists of earlier days sought to make the composition of the 
particular churches approximate that of the church as it was 
known to God. To each such congregation, they said. God 
has given all power necessary for ordering its life under the 
headship of Christ. Yet they recognized that the church as a 

whole was greater than any local congregation. 

O , OS 




Interdependence of Churches. A further step had to be 
taken, therefore, to make plain the relationship between uni- 
versal and particular churches. Some safeguard was needed 
to prevent an excessive stress upon local independence from 
obscuring the unity of the church. Local churches were not 
regarded as isolated units, but rather they recognized them- 
selves as integral members of the total church which is the 
body of Christ. The earliest London Baptist Confession of 
1644 pointedly expresses a sense of interrelatedness : "Though 
we be distinct in respect of our particular bodies, . . . yet are 
all one in communion, holding Jesus Christ to be our head 
and Lord." Other statements in the various confessions sup- 
port this conception of unity which was held by Baptists. 

It was necessary to give more than verbal assent to the idea 
of unity among the churches. Some visible means of expressing 
the relationship and mutual concern of the particular churches 
was needed, and for that purpose the Baptists devised the asso- 
ciation. The term "association" did not come into use as a 
common designation for the formal connectional life for a few 
years; at first, Baptists preferred to speak of "general assembly" 
or "general meeting." However, both General and Particular 
Baptists had begun the development of an associational life by 

Early Beginnings of Associations. The associational principle 
was strong in Baptist life both in England and America. The 
association met practical needs, and it was rooted in the Bap- 
tist view of the church. In 1652, the Berkshire Baptists stated 
their associational principle as follows: "There is the same re- 
lationship betwixt particular churches each towards other, as 
there is betwixt particular members of one church, for the 
churches of Christ do all make up but one body or church in 
general under Christ their head." * In England these organiza- 

1 E. A. Payne, The Baptists of Berkshire through Three Centuries, Appendix 
I^pages 147 ff. London: Carey Kingsgate Press, 1951. Cited by Hugh Wamble, 
"The Beginnings of Associationalism among English Baptists," Review and 
Expositor, Oct., 1957, page 547. 


tions served as means of distributing benevolences, constitut- 
ing new churches, resolving disciplinary problems, settling 
questions of theology and polity, and eventually of controlling 


A look at the formation and activities of the Philadelphia 
Baptist Association affords an idea of the way in which such 
an organization was conceived. Organized in 1707, it was the 
parent stem from which the major Baptist bodies in America 
have sprung. The fact that it did not begin until that date has 
led some interpreters to the mistaken conclusion that the as- 
sociational idea was something which independent churches 
developed only gradually. Actually, however, the General 
Baptists had formed an association, or general assembly, in 
New England by 1670. Most of the early New England Baptists 
were of that persuasion and most of them therefore belonged to 
that body. 

Prior to 1690 the Particular Baptist churches in America 
were too few and scattered to have an associational life. By 
that date, there were four Baptist churches in the middle 
colonies, and they had begun informal meetings together. In 
1688, the Pennepack Baptist Church came into existence, and 
shortly thereafter there were three others in neighboring New 
Jersey: Middletown (1688), Piscataway (1689), and Cohansey 
(1690). These churches held joint meetings for the purpose 
of administering baptism, ordaining ministers, and providing 
inspiration. A few years later the Welsh Tract Baptists formed 
a church. In 1707, these five Particular Baptist churches formed 
the Philadelphia Baptist Association. 

Until the second half of the century this was the only associa- 
tion among the Particular Baptists in America, and it came to 
include member churches from the colonies in the North and 
South. When other associations were formed, they followed 
the pattern of the Philadelphia Baptist Association and were 
affiliated with it. 


The Role of the Philadelphia Baptist Association 

How did this early association conceive its nature and func- 
tion? It is difficult for Baptists today to realize the strong cor- 
porate sense of the Baptists in that day. Accustomed to more 
individualistic ideas, we may too easily read into the earlier 
terms "independence" or "particular churches" some modern 
ideas of "the autonomy of the local church." 

In their theory of the association, Baptists tried to steer a 
course between the extremes of overemphasizing or under- 
emphasizing the place of the local church. While acknowledg- 
ing their belief in "the catholic or universal church," they also 
stressed the importance of the local congregation. The par- 
ticular churches, they maintained, represented the larger 
church and had all the powers belonging to the larger Chris- 
tian fellowship. On the other hand, along with this recogni- 
tion of the significance of particular churches, there was an 
equal insistence upon their interdependence. Such churches, 
declares a manual of discipline issued in 1743 by the Philadel- 
phia Baptist Association, "may and ought to maintain com- 
munion together in many duties which may tend to the mutual 
benefit and edification of the whole." Thus, their thinking about 
the association simply reiterated that of the English Baptists in 
the seventeenth century. 

We may learn more about their viewpoint from "An Essay 
on the Power and Duty of an Association," which was ap- 
proved by the Philadelphia Association in 1749. Beginning 
with the assertion that "an association is not a superior judica- 
ture," this document proceeds to assert the powers which be- 
long to the local church under Christ. However, the statement 
also adds: "Yet we are of opinion that an association of the 
delegates of associate churches have a very considerable power 
in their hands, respecting those churches in their confedera- 
tion." What they regarded as independence of the churches 
was balanced by a strong sense of interdependence. 

Although the association had no legal control over the 
churches, the representative body had an authority of its own. 


Admittedly, an association could not interfere directly in the 
affairs of a congregation. It could not, for example, discipline 
a member in one of the churches. If a member of a particular 
church needed to be disciplined, however, the association could 
recommend that he be dealt with in a disciplinary way. The 
church was then expected to heed that advice, and if it re- 
fused to do so it might be excluded from the association. The 
relationship of the association toward its member churches was 
explained in the "Essay" as analogous to that of a church to 
its members: "But in the capacity of a congregational church, 
dealing with her own members, an association, then, of the 
delegates of associate churches, may exclude and withdraw 
from defective and unsound or disorderly churches. ,, 

Thus the association could not dictate to the churches what 
they were to do, but churches were expected to seek the coun- 
sel of the association in difficulties and to respect the judgment 
of the delegates. Although that body had only limited powers 
of enforcement, the power to expel uncooperative members 
constituted an important authority. Since the Baptist doc- 
trine of the church obligated a congregation to be associated 
with other churches, it was important to keep the associational 
connections intact. To be forced out of the larger fellowship 
would deprive it of needed encouragement and help, and to 
live in isolation was a virtual denial of its doctrine concerning 
the unity of the church. 

Examination of the records will reveal that these early Bap- 
tist churches felt an obligation to hold fellowship with one 
another. They united in associations where they could co- 
operate in matters of mutual interest and in the furtherance 
of the gospel. There was no thought of living in isolation, for 
each church was representative of a larger whole. 

A look at the activities of the Philadelphia Baptist Associ- 
ation shows how diverse and broad were its concerns. In gen- 
eral terms its aims were "to consult about such things as were 
wanting in the churches, and to set them in order." Whatever 


touched the life of individual churches or affected their com- 
mon witness came within the scope of its interest. 

In keeping with the aim of having an informed membership 
in the churches, this association considered the edification of 
the churches as one of its major aims. It was to that end that 
several sermons were preached at the regular meetings. Cir- 
cular letters were sent out to the churches from the association, 
dealing with points of doctrine or practice. The association 
also served as a forum where doctrinal or practical questions 
might be discussed. In order to encourage the development of 
an informed constituency, the association published printed 
materials such as its confession of faith, the Treatise of Disci- 
pline, a catechism for children, and a hymnal. 

A second important purpose was the provision of a suitable 
ministry for the churches. Churches which were "destitute" of 
a minister would be provided with supply preachers, and ar- 
rangements were made for them to observe the Lord's Sup- 
per. To guard churches against unqualified persons who 
claimed to be Baptist ministers, the Philadelphia Association 
asserted the right to examine and certify "all gifted brethren 
and ministers that might come in here from other places." It 
also urged churches to seek out young men with promising 
talents for the ministry, and then took steps to make it pos- 
sible for such persons to receive a proper education. This in- 
terest in education ranged from the use of educational funds 
to the establishment of a college. 

Third among the general aims of the Philadelphia Associa- 
tion was the maintenance of peace among the churches. From 
the beginning it claimed the right to hear appeals from ag- 
grieved members of churches, and to give advice in the set- 
tling of disputes. Initiative could be taken where churches 
seemed to be in distress, as illustrated by this entry from the 
Minutes of 1731: 

The associated brethren seeing no messengers from Piscataqua as 
usual, and hearing by some of our brethren of the sad and distracted 
condition of that congregation, they thought proper to write to 


them, and to appoint Mr. Jenkin Jones and Mr. Joseph Eaton to 
give them a visit before winter, which by the blessing of God, 
proved a means to reduce that church to peace and order. 

It should not be necessary to add that the association could 
not coerce a church or impose a decision upon it; it could, 
however, determine and declare its convictions. When the 
association has expressed itself, says the Treatise of Discipline: 
"the churches will do well to receive, own, and observe such 

Another aspect of its work had to do with the forming of 
new churches. Representatives of the association were sent 
to the South on more than one occasion. Later in the century 
support was raised for missions to the Indians. After the 
establishment of William Carey's mission in India, the asso- 
ciation encouraged an interest in foreign missions. 

As the number of churches increased, it became necessary 
to form other associations. The first of these was the Charles- 
ton Baptist Association, in South Carolina, in 1751, when there 
were four Baptist churches in that vicinity. Before long 
there were associations in Virginia and in New England. The 
new associations were modeled after the Philadelphia pattern. 
Part of the intention was that the associations themselves 
should be affiliated with one another in order to maintain unity 
among the Baptist churches. With the rapid Baptist growth 
after the Revolutionary War, however, it was difficult to main- 
tain this relationship, and greater diversity in practice and 
doctrine began to develop. 

The Decline of Associations 

Inevitably, changes occurred. In the nineteenth century, a 
number of forces wrought some alterations in the Baptists' 
self-understanding. Partly because of a prevailing climate of 
opinion which favored individualism, the independence of the 
local church was exaggerated to the point of weakening the 
sense of interdependence. Under the impact of varied cultural 
and regional influences, the Baptists deviated in many respects 


from their own tradition. The need for many ministers, to meet 
the rapid expansion of the churches, led to the ordination of 
men who were often unfamiliar with Baptist theology and 
history. Without properly prepared pastoral leaders, the Bap- 
tists gradually underwent many changes which eventually 
threatened a loss of their sense of identity. 

One of the changes which took place by the end of the nine- 
teenth century was the dwindling of the association's impor- 
tance. Partly because of the rise of independent voluntary 
societies for special purposes, and partly because of the de- 
velopment of state conventions, the association was robbed of 
its normal functions. In most cases the association survived 
only to provide inspiration at an annual meeting, although in 
the middle of the twentieth century some efforts were being 
made to revive the association as a significant feature of Bap- 
tist life. 


It is clear that the association should have an important place 
in the life of the churches, forming a bridge between the local 
churches and the state and national conventions. Comprising 
a number of churches, the association makes available com- 
bined strength and wisdom which can supplement the re- 
sources of a local church. Through consultation and co-oper- 
ation, each congregation can be strengthened and mutual tasks 
can be undertaken more efficiently. At the same time, the near- 
ness of the association to the grass roots affords a familiarity 
with the needs of the local situation which is often lacking in 
those who are more remote from it. 

In many matters of importance to the member churches, the 
enlistment of local leadership in the area served by the asso- 
ciation will bring about more realistic planning and greater ef- 
fectiveness in results than is otherwise possible. The associa- 
tion serves as a means of information and inspiration, and 
through delegates the churches can also participate in making 
policies. Evangelistic and missionary interests can be promoted, 


leadership training courses held, and new churches established 
through committees of the association. In matters of social con- 
cern, the churches can work together to achieve desirable ends. 
Standards of ordination can be determined also, although an 
association should take such steps in co-operation with the 
state and national conventions to assure uniformity among the 
various associations, with respect to requirements. In many 
ways the recovery of a wholesome associational life can result 
in greater stability and efficiency, and it will be a check against 
the concentration of power in a few hands which would take 
all responsibility from the local churches. 

Committees Preferable to Councils 

Councils, formerly needed for considering some inter-church 
problems, are no longer necessary. The purposes once served 
by councils may now be met by the association through its 
permanent and special committees. The term "council" meant 
a gathering of representatives from neighboring churches, who 
had been invited by another church to advise it on some ques- 
tion or problem. Such meetings were extra-associational; they 
were called to meet a particular situation and were dissolved 
when their work had been done. Originally, the council was 
useful because distance made it difficult to convene a special 
meeting of the association when some urgent matter demanded 
attention. Later, when a growing sense of independence had 
begun to obscure the values of the association, the council was 
preferred as a substitute for the association's more direct action. 
The ephemeral character of the former seemed to constitute 
a' better protection of the autonomy of the local church than 
did a more permanent body. 

Both on practical and theological grounds there is good 
reason to work through the association. From the standpoint 
of convenience the council is no longer needed, for modern 
transportation makes it easy for associations to assemble at 
frequent intervals. In a day when most churches are separated 
by no more than an hour's travel time, matters once referred 


to councils can now be handled by the association or its com- 
mittees. Moreover, we now realize that the excessive concern 
for the autonomy of the local church which fostered the coun- 
cil after the need for it had ended represents a misunderstand- 
ing and perversion of the true nature of the church. The asso- 
ciation, with its committees, represents all the churches, and 
its orderly procedures give more stability and continuity to 
church policies than would be possible with independent 

Associations and Ordination 

For example, the association should take responsibility for 
determining the fitness of a candidate for ordination. The 
earliest examples of ordination procedures indicate that Baptist 
churches felt obliged to consult others in such an important 
matter. In the Philadelphia Baptist Association, representatives 
of the churches were always involved in the examination and 
ordination of a candidate. No church would have thought of 
ordaining anyone to the ministry without the assistance of 
other congregations. The Charleston Baptist Association, the 
second associational body in America, followed the parent 
group in this procedure. When asked by a member church 
about the method of ordination, it advised, "that the church 
call in the assistance of at least two, but rather three, of the 
ministers in union, who are the most generally esteemed in the 
churches for piety and abilities." 

Even as late as the middle of the nineteenth century when 
connectional bonds were becoming looser, President Francis 
Wayland, a strong proponent of local church autonomy, wrote: 
"A single church does not ordain; it calls a council, generally 
representing the churches in the vicinity, who are present by 
their minister and such private brethren as they may select/* 2 
The ordination of a minister was so obviously a matter of con- 
cern to others than the local church that a representative 

2 Notes on the Principles and Practices of Baptist Churches, page 114. 
New York: 1857. 


group was expected to take part in the examination and in the 
ordination service. 

Applying this principle to present-day conditions, Baptists 
now find that it is best to work through regular associational 
channels rather than to depend upon ad hoc assemblies chosen 
on the basis of the conveniences of the moment. Although the 
local church retains its authority to ordain a person, it submits 
his qualifications to the representatives of sister churches for 
consideration and advice. While this examining group may 
still be termed a "council" if so desired, its structure should 
consist of delegates from the churches in the association. The 
association ought also to have a permanent committee which 
can make a preliminary examination of the credentials of the 
applicant. Furthermore, the invitation to the churches to send 
delegates to a meeting to examine the candidate should be 
sent out by the association. When an examining group has 
reached a decision regarding the suitability of a candidate, it 
recommends that the church to which he belongs proceed with 
a service of ordination or it advises against such action. 

On some occasions, churches have ordained persons contrary 
to the advice of the examining body. There is no legal power 
to prevent such a course of action, but if a church ignores the 
judgment of the representatives of the association, the ordina- 
tion should be declared invalid. Notice of such action should 
be reported to the state and national conventions, and no de- 
nominational listing should include the name of that person 
unless he has been subsequently ordained by regular pro- 

Associations and New Churches 

The formation of a new church is another occasion where 
councils were once used, but where a representative associ- 
ational committee is more suitable today. In the past, when a 
new congregation was to be constituted, it was customary for 
representatives of neighboring churches to take part in the 
organizing process. A committee representing the churches 


ascertained the qualifications of those who presented them- 
selves as charter members and made an examination of their 
doctrinal standards. It was not unusual to have the constituent 
members publicly sign a confessional statement and a covenant 
in affirmation of their faith. When the credentials had been 
pronounced satisfactory, a formal service was held during 
which the group was declared a Baptist church. 

The procedure for constituting a Baptist church today varies 
in details, but the principles are those which have guided Bap- 
tist practice in the past. Whereas it was once more convenient 
to leave such matters to councils, it is now considered better 
to have a committee representing the churches of the associa- 
tion to perform the work of examining credentials. If the as- 
sociational representatives are satisfied with their findings in 
this examination, they will then approve the newly formed 
group as a Baptist church. A public service should then be 
held to recognize the fact that a new church has been organ- 
ized. It would be appropriate at that time to have the originat- 
ing members give public assent to their articles of faith and 
publicly to recognize their covenant obligations. 

Associations and Church Disputes 

One other kind of situation in which councils were fre- 
quently useful in past years was the settlement of disputes. 

Many are the cases on record where internal strife has at- 
tracted the attention of sister churches, and a council was 
called for the purpose of arbitration. Usually the council was 
called at the behest of the church involved, but sometimes 
the association took the initiative. On other occasions, an 
aggrieved member brought his case to the attention of the 
association, and sometimes a council was called to deal with a 
church which had received into its fellowship someone who 
had been excluded by another church. 

Today the idea of having delegates from various churches 
consider the internal affairs of any one church sounds strange. 
To resort to such a means of settling problems would be re- 



garded by Baptists generally as an infringement upon the 
autonomy of the local church. However, there is good reason 
why an associational committee should be asked to help a 
church in the decision of difficult points. Often there is need 
for disinterested parties to enter into the dispute and help the 
opposing factions to arrive at an amicable settlement. In many 
cases, where churches have been torn apart by strife, inter- 
vention by the association to which they belonged would have 
been both wise and proper. It is unfortunate that our indi- 
vidualistic interpretations of the local church have resulted in 
the disappearance of such procedures. Although there would 
be difficulties in recovering such a practice, it accords well with 
traditional Baptist usages and with our conception of the 

Relationships with the Association 

There is a wide range of interests in which associational com- 
mittees, either permanent or special, might serve the churches 
well in our day, fulfilling the same functions and values as the 
councils once did. It should be recognized, of course, that the 
association is the servant and not the master of the churches; 
it does not have inherent power in its own right, but is the 
creature of the churches. Its advice should be listened to with 
respect, although its decisions have only a moral authority. The 
decisions made by a carefully selected, representative group 
of Baptists are more than mere irresponsible opinions. Rather 
they offer the combined judgment of persons of integrity. A 
church therefore should not disregard the judgment of the 
association without the best of reasons for doing so. 

A strong associational life would not eliminate the need for 
state and national conventions. There are many areas which 
cannot be the direct responsibility of churches at the local level, 
because of the needs for specialists and administrators to for- 
mulate and execute policies. Among these specialized fields are 
home and overseas missions, Christian education, higher edu- 
cation, and publications. 


State and National Conventions 

Baptists in America have found tension between localism 
and the wider church most acute at the level of national organ- 
ization. Although they developed associations early in their 
history, they failed to adapt the associational principle to the 
new situations which came later with expansion and growth. 
Consequently their larger organizations have not been ade- 
quate to meet the needs of changing times, nor have they meas- 
ured up to what the early Baptists' doctrine of the church 
would require. Although this situation applies to Baptists of 
both North and South, the latter have had a more coherent 
form of organization on the state and national levels than have 
the former. 

By mid-twentieth century the Northern (American) Bap- 
tists 1 had become quite conscious of the inadequacies of their 
loosely federated system, and there was a growing desire for 
greater unity and efficiency. Having experienced theological 
tensions, large-scale defections, stagnation in the large cities, 
and a weakened evangelistic thrust in some areas, they began 
some serious self-examination. Their dissatisfaction with them- 
selves was partly due to a rate of growth which compared un- 
favorably with that of most of the other major denominational 

i Previous to 1950, the American Baptist Convention was known as the 
Northern Baptist Convention. 



bodies. In particular, the phenomenal growth of Southern Bap- 
tists subsequent to 1940 made the northern group conscious of 
their own almost static membership figures. They were also 
concerned by the lack of a strong denominational conscious- 
ness such as that which characterized the Southern Baptists. 

Although the problems of the American Baptist Convention 
could not be attributed to a single cause, the lack of a cohesive 
organization was a major hindrance to concerted action. In 
comparing the American and Southern Baptist Conventions 
one must take account of sociological factors which have made 
the latter more homogeneous and have contributed to the shap- 
ing of its character and program. To some extent, however, 
the strong co-operative spirit and denominational loyalty of 
the Southern Baptists may be explained by their better-inte- 
grated organization. It was natural, therefore, that the Amer- 
ican Baptists should turn their attention to organizational 

Many people were convinced that advantages would follow 
the improvement of organizational patterns, but they did not 
expect such changes alone to bring renewal to the American 
Baptist churches. Reorganization, therefore, was paralleled by 
a series of emphases which were intended to provide a sounder 
basis for denominational life. In view of the long-standing 
theological cleavages within the denomination, it might have 
been easier to avoid theological issues and to concentrate upon 
practical considerations. Instead of that course, however, a 
conscious effort was made to involve both laymen and pastors 
in serious reflection about the biblical doctrine of the church 
and its calling to serve the world. Stress was placed upon the 
vocation of Christians to live responsibly under the lordship of 
Christ in their homes, at work, in politics, and in all of life. 
With the development of this more mature understanding of 
the Christian faith, it was expected that renewed vitality would 
come to the churches. It was hoped, too, that a clearer con- 
ception of the mission of the church would give an impetus 
to the development of a more adequate polity. 


Such a remodeling of the convention could not take place 
suddenly. Although progress was made toward a theological 
consensus in the denomination, American Baptists had previ- 
ously become such a heterogeneous people that it was difficult 
for them to achieve common understandings. Resistance to 
change continued among many sincere people who believed 
that the independent spirit of modern Baptists had been de- 
rived directly from the New Testament. To them this local 
independence was associated with historic Baptist orthodoxy, 
and any change would violate Baptist principles. Therefore, 
every effort to develop more adequate plans for organizing the 
convention was apt to be countered by those who sought to 
preserve "the autonomy of the local church." Actually, the 
American Baptist Convention had been shaped more by a need 
to raise money than by reference to biblical or theological 
standards, but that fact was not generally recognized. Despite 
the opposition of those who clung to ingrained habits of 
thought and action, by the end of the fifties a definite trend 
toward greater unity and more effective organization could be 


A further review of our history may contribute toward the 
understanding of the present system, as well as pointing Bap- 
tists in a new direction. By retracing our steps we may see 
how the present organization came into existence. We can 
then recognize that in the early nineteenth century Baptists 
almost took an alternative course of development which would 
have been more consistent with their doctrine of the church. 
As we thus take account of our history and the biblical view 
of the church, we may become freed from misplaced loyalty 
to ideas which are neither biblical nor baptistic. Thus eman- 
cipated, we would be in a position to proceed toward a posi- 
tive reconstruction of the denominational pattern. 

We have already seen that the early associations were devised 
to give expression to the interdependence of the churches. Com- 


bining a strong sense of the importance of the local church 
with a clear conviction of the reality of the universal church, 
the Philadelphia Baptist Association provided the particular 
congregations with the advantages of a wider fellowship with- 
out sacrificing their own important role. Room was made for 
both the work of the local church and the co-operative work 
of the associated churches. If the same associational principle 
had been used as a rationale for the development of state and 
national conventions, these bodies would have furnished a 
means of effective co-operation and would have made the larger 
agencies more responsive to the churches. 

Anticipation of National Organization 

It is interesting to observe that, even as early as 1770, 
while the number of churches and associations was still small, 
proposals were made which looked forward to the development 
of a national organization. A Philadelphia pastor, Morgan 
Edwards, suggested the outlines for such a body. Its ad- 
vantages were described by him as follows: "It introduces 
into the visible church what are called joints and bands 
whereby the whole body is knit together and compacted for 
increase by that which every part supplieth. And therefore it 
is that I am so anxious to render the same combination of 
Baptist Churches universal upon this continent." 2 

Even earlier, another Baptist had written to James Manning, 
the president of Rhode Island College, in a similar vein. Writ- 
ten on the occasion of the founding of the Warren Association 
in Rhode Island, the letter stated: 

For, as particular members are collected together and united in one 
body, which we call a particular church, to answer those ends and 
purposes which could not be accomplished by any single member, 
so a collection and union of churches into one associational body 
may easily be conceived capable of answering those still greater 
purposes which any particular church could not be equal to. And, 

2 Quoted by William Wright Barnes, The Southern Baptist Convention, 
1845-1953, page 9. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1954. 


by the same reason, a union of associations will still increase the 
body in weight and strength, and make it good that a three-fold 
cord is not easily broken. 3 

The foregoing quotations are samples of a widespread senti- 
ment which contemplated the expansion of the associational 
principle embodied in the Philadelphia Baptist Association. 
The missionary and educational movements, however, had not 
yet arisen to make the churches feel the urgency of completing 
a national organization. By the time that the necessity did be- 
come apparent, other influences were at work which shifted 
the development to a new direction. 

Two Conflicting Plans for Organizational Development 

Early in the nineteenth century a series of new movements 
affected the course of Baptist growth and development. A 
fresh awareness of the missionary and evangelistic responsibil- 
ity of the church called forth new forms of co-operation among 
churches and among denominations. This interest, which in- 
cluded home and foreign missions, education, and the dissemi- 
nation of Bibles and Christian literature, elicited new methods 
of raising funds to meet the great opportunities. 

It was this rising tide of interest in missions which crystal- 
lized Baptist interest in some additional organization. When the 
Judsons and Luther Rice changed their denominational loyalty 
from Congregationalist to Baptist, there arose an urgent need 
for some means of supporting them as missionaries in Burma. 
Luther Rice returned to America to seek the support of Bap- 
tists, and in conjunction with Baptist leaders of Boston and 
Philadelphia he spearheaded a move to awaken the interest 
of the churches in organizing to support foreign missions. At 
about the same time there was a growing desire to extend the 
work of home missions and to establish educational institu- 
tions, which gave a further impetus to the development of a 
national organization. 

At this juncture, it was not clear what form of organization 
8 Ibid., page 2. 


the Baptists would adopt in order to participate in these new 
movements. The early pattern of the Philadelphia Baptist As- 
sociation offered a basis for the development of an associa- 
tional life on the national level. The natural line of develop- 
ment would have been to expand the associations into state 
and national organizations, and there was strong sentiment in 
favor of such a plan. State and national conventions would 
be organized and related to the local churches through the 
associations. Through such an organization the Baptists could 
meet the challenge of missions, education, evangelism, and 

In opposition to the natural expansion of the associational 
principle, however, were an individualistic spirit and vested 
local interests. Many people feared any tendency toward 
centralization of authority, and they favored the formation of 
separate voluntary societies to sponsor each particular mission- 
ary and educational concern. Such societies were not com- 
posed of churches but of assorted individuals or groups who 
were interested in the project represented by a given society. 
Membership being voluntary, it was open to persons of any or 
no denomination upon payment of dues. Forgetting the the- 
ology which had undergirded the associational principle, the 
advocates of this viewpoint wished to bypass the older design 
in favor of the "society method" of co-operative work. Between 
1814 and 1826, there was a divided opinion, but the strong de- 
sire for an integrated denomination seemed likely to win the 
contest. By the latter date, however, the individualistic spirit 
had triumphed, and the decentralized pattern represented by 
the societies was adopted. 

The Triennial Convention 

In 1814, it was the hope of Luther Rice to see the develop- 
ment of a unified national body of Baptists. It was his plan to 
lead in the formation of a national organization made up of 
representatives of state conventions, and these in turn would 
be composed of delegates from associations and local societies. 


Dr. Thomas Baldwin, of Boston, also envisioned a similar close- 
knit denominational body, as did many other ministers. There 
were other influential leaders, however, who wished to avoid 
any tendencies toward a strong ecclesiastical organization. 
Under the pressure of time, the leaders formed a Baptist Mis- 
sionary Convention which had for its one purpose the support 
of foreign missions. It was expected by some that this "Tri- 
ennial Convention," as it was commonly called, could be de- 
veloped into a more comprehensive body later, and various at- 
tempts were made toward expanding and strengthening it along 
this line. 

The first step toward extending the purpose of the Triennial 
Convention came in 1817, when the constitution was amended. 
A need was felt for a national Baptist college to prepare 
ministers, and there was a desire to combine home and foreign 
missions in the work of this agency. By changing the consti- 
tution, power was given to the Board authorizing it "to appro- 
priate a portion of the funds to domestic missionary purposes." 
The Board was also authorized, when funds should become 
adequate, "to institute a classical and theological seminary, 
for the purpose of aiding young men" of promise for the 
ministry. The purpose of the missionary convention was further 
expanded in 1820, when the name was changed to state its 
objectives broadly as "foreign missions and other important 
objects relating to the Redeemer's kingdom." 

With these constitutional revisions the foundation had been 
established for a comprehensive denominational life, but the 
machinery to implement this dream was yet to be completed. 
Membership in the Triennial Convention was based upon the 
payment of a sum of money by either an individual or a local 
society. Therefore it was not really a denominational body 
representing the churches, but rather a voluntary society com- 
posed of dues-paying members who might not even be Bap- 
tists. However, at that point in its development, it was intended 
to be only a stopgap until a denominational organization could 
be effected. 


State Conventions as a Necessary Link 

A necessary step in the process of completing the national 
body was the formation of state conventions, which could be 
joined into a general convention. Local churches would then 
be represented by delegates to the association, and associations 
would send delegates to the state convention. The latter would 
in turn choose representatives to attend the General Conven- 
tion. In this way the churches would be united in a nation- 
wide denominational organization of a representative type. 

The first state convention was formed in South Carolina in 
1821. Favoring an integrated denominational body, those who 
led the movement to establish this organization framed it in a 
way which would co-ordinate Baptist work in the state. The 
associations were united into a state convention, and the aims 
stated in its constitution included missions and education. 
Before long, a college had been started, which was owned and 
controlled by the state organization. Home and foreign mis- 
sions too were promoted under state auspices. It was ready 
to become one of the links between churches and a national 
convention. In the same year a similar move was taken in New 
York State, where a state convention was made up of delegates 
from associations. However, in that state the intention of its 
sponsors was thwarted by competing interests. 

Within the next few years, similar conventions were begun 
in ten other states. The Massachusetts Convention, begun in 
1824, anticipated the time when it would become a link be- 
tween the associations and a national convention. Its consti- 
tution stated that "whenever a General Convention formed 
from State Conventions throughout the United States shall be 
formed or designed, it shall be in the power of this Conven- 
tion to send delegates to meet in such Convention." 4 Editorials 
and articles appeared which looked forward to the culmina- 
tion of the plan to transform the Triennial Convention into a 
representative Baptist body on a national level. 

4 Quoted by W. S. Hudson, "Stumbling into Disorder," Foundations, April, 
1958, page 47. 


Triumph of the "Society Method" 

It had been anticipated that by 1826 the dream would be 
realized; but before that date arrived, certain strong local in- 
terests had thwarted the whole movement. In New York the 
new state convention sought to bring missionary and educa- 
tional interests together under the auspices of the single Bap- 
tist body. However, the educational society which controlled 
the new college, unwilling to relinquish this control, remained 
independent. Moreover, the Hamilton Missionary Society 
did not wish to lose its identity. Instead of merging the mis- 
sion society with the State Convention, therefore, the reverse 
procedure took place, and the state organization became the 
Baptist Missionary Convention of the State of New York. 
Hence, instead of a truly representative Baptist convention 
emerging in New York, the state body became a missionary 
society based upon contributions of interested people. 

At the meeting of the Triennial Convention in 1826, the 
influence of the New York State delegation, coupled with that 
of influential men from Boston, prevented the anticipated ful- 
fillment of the hope for a national convention. Instead of mov- 
ing toward a more unified and representative agency, the Tri- 
ennial Convention voted in 1826 to restrict its interests to 
foreign missions, and its money basis for membership was 
retained. Separate societies directed the work of publication 
and home missions, and each .educational institution was 
operated by independent societies. At last the decentralized 
pattern had won, and Baptist organization became atomistic. 
The same spirit which had led to the frustration of the associa- 
tional principle now fostered an increasing trend toward local 
autonomy, which removed the idea of independence from the 
context of the lordship of Christ over his church. The ten- 
dencies toward independence divorced missionary and educa- 
tional agencies from responsibility to the churches, and 
hampered the development of a coherent and efficient denomi- 
national organization in the United States. 


The significant decision of 1826 determined the denomina- 
tional pattern of Baptists in the North, but Southern Baptists 
followed a different course. The Southern Baptist Convention 
was constituted in 1845, after a secession of southerners from 
the Triennial Convention and the American Baptist Home 
Mission Society. Instead of employing the society method, this 
convention carried on its missionary activities through its own 
foreign and domestic mission boards. In order to enable the 
convention to assume responsibility for the whole range of 
Christian work, it was allowed by its constitution to organize 
other boards as they might be needed. In this way a basis 
was laid for the development of a more integrated denomina- 

The difference between the "convention method" and the 
"society method" has had an important bearing upon the de- 
velopment of Baptist life in the North. Instead of having 
agencies which were integral parts of the denomination, a 
series of independent corporations operated by self-perpetuat- 
ing boards of managers was developed. The American Bap- 
tist Foreign Mission Society, the Woman's American Baptist 
Foreign Mission Society, the American Baptist Home Mission 
Society, the Woman's American Baptist Home Mission Society, 
the American Baptist Education Society, the American Baptist 
Historical Society, and the American Baptist Publication So- 
ciety were all legally incorporated institutions responsible only 
to a constituency determined by the payment of membership 
fees. Even state conventions became missionary societies of the 
same type. Theological seminaries and colleges were operated 
by independent groups through self-perpetuating boards of 
trustees, instead of being under control of the denomination. 
While there was some attempt to co-ordinate the work of 
separate agencies, there was a great deal of competition and 
wasteful duplication. 

With the passing of years the need for a more unified de- 
nomination became clear, but the road to reorganization was 
blocked. The triumph of the society method had promoted a 


spirit of independence which was stronger than the co-opera- 
tive spirit. Vested interests developed in the independent soci- 
eties which were unwilling to surrender their power or prerog- 
atives for the good of the larger work. 

Moreover, the nineteenth century saw an erosion of the older 
theology of the church which could have provided a basis for 
a better structure. Under the impact of individualism and 
evangelicalism, the Baptists of the nineteenth century had 
undergone subtle changes and now came to see themselves in a 
new perspective. The strict Calvinism which had characterized 
the denomination earlier was now being dissolved, although 
the process was largely unconscious. By the end of the century, 
in place of the early bonds which had united Baptists in asso- 
ciations, a new interpretation of independence was in vogue 
which denied that there was such a thing as the "interde- 
pendence" of Baptist churches. The idea of the universal 
church tended to drop out of common use, and some people 
denied that the New Testament knew of any other meaning of 
"church" besides that of the local church. Oblivious of their 
close relationship to English Dissenters, some Baptists even 
began to deny that they were Protestants. Earlier adherence 
to confessional statements gave way to the strange idea that 
Baptists have no creeds or confessions except the New Testa- 
ment. Futhermore, the theory that Baptist churches cannot be 
represented came to be accepted as a traditional Baptist view: 
the churches could send only "messengers" to their assemblies 
—not delegates. 


When the inadequacies of a decentralized denomination 
finally forced some change, it was difficult to rally support for 
a really coherent denominational body. The independent 
societies and the local churches were jealous of their auton- 
omy, and any move to infringe upon it was quickly blocked. 
In 1907, the Northern Baptist Convention ( renamed the Amer- 
ican Baptist Convention in 1950) was formed to co-ordinate 


the various agencies, but it was an awkward compromise be- 
tween the convention and the society methods. Instead of 
merging the organizations involved, the constitution provided 
for a loose federation of societies and churches. 

From the outset there was a troublesome tension between 
preserving the autonomy of churches and societies and effect- 
ing greater unity and co-operation. The constitution stated that 
the independence of the local church would be safeguarded, 
and that the legal autonomy of the missionary and publica- 
tion societies would be preserved. At the same time the con- 
vention was supposed to "give expression to the opinions of 
the constituency upon moral, religious, and denominational 
matters, and to promote denominational unity and efficiency 
in efforts for the evangelization of the world." 5 

Relationship to the Societies 

The constituent societies were to be called co-operating or- 
ganizations, but each one remained legally separate, and the 
relationship to the convention could be terminated upon a 
year's notice. Unity of work was to be secured by holding the 
annual meetings simultaneously and by allowing the delegates 
to the convention to be considered voting members of the 
separate societies. As a co-ordinating agency, an executive 
committee was to include the officers of the convention, its past 
presidents, and thirty other members. The prime objective of 
the convention was co-operation in raising funds, and each 
society agreed to regulate its spending in accord with a budget 
prepared by a finance committee and approved by the con- 
vention. However, the machinery even for this limited pur- 
pose proved inadequate, and there was for a long time a lack 
of co-ordination among the denominational agencies. 

It has been difficult to establish a responsible relationship 
between the societies and the autonomous local churches. 
Churches which are absolutely independent and autonomous, 
as Baptists have often claimed theirs are, cannot commit them- 

5 From "An Act to Incorporate the Northern Baptist Convention," Sec. 2. 


selves to anything, for such commitment would involve a dele- 
gation of powers. Although diagrams of the structure of the 
denomination represent the churches as the broad base on 
which every organization rests, there really is not any clear 
channel by which churches can exercise controls over their 

A moment's reflection will show that there is not any way 
by which the voice of the churches can be clearly expressed in 
directing the conventions or agencies. When a denomination 
comprises several thousand churches spread over a large ter- 
ritory, it obviously cannot act as a town meeting where all 
persons attend and speak their mind. The only way for them 
to express themselves is through representatives. To some 
extent the churches are represented at an annual convention 
meeting, but at any given time not more than half of the con- 
stituent churches are likely to be represented at a meeting. 
Moreover, there will be a concentration of delegates from 
states nearest to the place of meeting, and only a sprinkling 
from more distant places. Therefore, any vote is bound to be 
preponderantly regional. Besides, it is impossible for any real 
deliberation to take place in convention sessions which are 
crowded with inspirational addresses, promotional features, and 
other activities. 

To some extent a representation of the churches may be 
made possible through the election of boards of managers for 
each of the societies. Persons are elected from various sections 
of the country to these boards, but they are not instructed in 
such a way that they voice the mind of the churches in their 
own section of the country. In the long run, the work of 
agencies is so specialized that boards which meet once or twice 
a year cannot fully grasp the issues sufficiently to debate them 
with intelligence. Almost inevitably the board members are 
bound to approve the recommendations brought to them by 
the full-time professional persons who direct the agency. It is 
probably inevitable that a large measure of power be granted 
to agencies which carry on specialized work, and authority 


has to be granted to their executive officers. However, their 
powers ought to be delineated more carefully. Such defining 
of power would provide some point at which the churches 
could help in shaping policy, if there were a better representa- 
tive system through which they could declare themselves. 

Relationship to the State Conventions 

Also related to the new convention were the state conven- 
tions, which were called affiliating organizations. Having been 
conceived originally as links in the chain between local 
churches and a national body, they eventually became prima- 
rily mission societies. Collecting money for home and foreign 
missions, they also carried on the work of establishing new 
churches. Gradually the state conventions widened their inter- 
ests, and they added new departments and activities. They 
fostered Christian education, promoted denominational pro- 
grams, and assisted churches in finding pastors. 

The state conventions are comprised of the churches, which 
send delegates to the annual meetings. At the annual meet- 
ings the programs are largely promotional and inspirational 
in design; reports are made about various phases of the state 
and national work, and there are periods for addresses, ser- 
mons, and worship. Although the assembly may vote on items 
proposed by some agency, there is little time for deliberation 
on complex issues. Between the annual sessions, the work is 
conducted by an executive secretary and a staff of persons 
with special responsibilities. The executive secretary is chosen 
by a board of managers, and much of his work is done in con- 
sultation with this board or with its executive committee. 

For years there was poor correlation between state conven- 
tions and national organizations. Although the former played 
an important part in shaping policies of the national agencies 
and in making up budgets, the ways in which these things 
were done was often undefined. Much of the interaction be- 
tween state and national work was based upon informal re- 
lationships. A change in the American Baptist Convention by- 


laws in 1961 provided that state secretaries should become 
non-voting members of the General Council. This step made 
possible more effective co-ordination of state and national 

Relationship to Denominational Schools 

One of the best illustrations of the weak ties between the 
churches and their agencies is afforded by a picture of the 
denomination's schools. There have been numerous colleges 
and theological seminaries which have had very tenuous links 
to the denomination. Partly because of the meager support 
given to them, and partly because of other factors, schools be- 
came very independent of the churches. Denominational 
schools can contribute a great deal of cohesive power to the 
life of the convention, but they must be undergirded by ade- 
quate support, and at the same time should be responsible to 
the churches which support them. 

It is an anomalous situation when theological seminaries ex- 
pect financial support from and provide pastors for a denomi- 
nation, without being directly responsible to it. The Southern 
Baptist colleges and seminaries have ordinarily been under the 
direct control of state and national conventions. Trustees are 
elected at annual convention meetings, and the schools receive 
substantial subsidies from the conventions. In the American 
Baptist Convention the schools have usually had to find their 
own support and have consequently been more independent of 
denominational direction. By 1960, however, there were signs 
that some colleges and seminaries were seeking closer rela- 
tionships with the churches and that the denomination was 
more concerned for the support of Christian higher education. 
In some seminaries there was more interest in having de- 
nominational representatives on boards of trustees, and in 
certain cases state conventions elected a number of trustees. 
Although too much interference with the internal life of 
schools would not be desirable, it is important that colleges 


and seminaries should receive support from their constituent 
churches and be generally responsible to them. 

Reorganization of 1961 

A great many times, since the formation and organization of 
the Northern Baptist Convention in 1907, committees have 
been appointed at the annual meetings to work on plans to 
change the shape of the organization. Twice, comprehensive 
studies were made by outside agencies, and as a result changes 
were recommended. Again and again there have been at- 
tempts to make the convention work more efficiently. As a 
result of successive modifications, a larger degree of co-opera- 
tion was gradually achieved, particularly with the adoption of 
a series of alterations in the by-laws of the American Baptist 
Convention in 1961. 

In that year the size of the General Council was expanded 
to 96, more than doubling its former size. The intent of that 
move was to bring all state secretaries, the heads of other 
agencies, and a number of staff persons into the General 
Council. At the same time members of the council would 
represent it in the boards and divisions. Thus communication 
among various departments of denominational life would be 
improved, and those who were responsible for interpreting 
policies and programs in the various states would have had a 
share in the making of decisions. The plan also called for 
more consolidation by making the mission societies into 
boards of the convention and making other agencies into di- 
visions of the General Council. The head of each board be- 
came an associate general secretary of the American Baptist 
Convention, who was a voting member of the General Council. 
With this step, an important stride was taken toward greater 
efficiency and better communication with the churches. There 
was danger, however, that the efficiency of making and execut- 
ing plans might mean the further sacrifice of the power and 
authority of the local churches. Better channels of communi- 
cation from the grass roots to the central planning body were 


needed to parallel the channels by which communications 
could now be disseminated from the top. In other words, some 
representative system was needed to give reality to the tradi- 
tional emphasis upon the importance of the local congregations. 


In general, the convention machinery of the Southern Bap- 
tists has operated more smoothly than that of the American 
Baptist Convention. In the former body, a greater measure 
of integration has been achieved among the various agencies 
responsible for missions, education, publications, and promo- 
tion. The unified character of the Southern Baptist Conven- 
tion is sometimes explained as the natural outcome of its 
original plan of organization. By its provision that work should 
be done by means of boards of the convention instead of by 
independent societies, it contemplated a more integrated de- 
nomination than could be possible under the "society method." 
For years, however, Southern Baptists struggled with cen- 
trifugal forces which threatened to fragment the work of their 
convention, and not until about 1925 did they begin to realize 
the kind of united denomination which the original constitu- 
tion had envisioned. With the formation of an executive com- 
mittee, provision for an executive secretary, and adoption of 
budget control through the Co-operative Program, centralized 
authority began to be effective. 

In the official history of the Southern Baptist Convention, 
Dr. W. W. Barnes has described the steps by which it became 
a truly denominational body. His book indicates that integra- 
tion and efficient operation were achieved because broad 
powers were given to a powerful executive committee. Such 
centralized authority has been gained at the price of excluding 
the local churches from the process of policymaking and mak- 
ing major decisions. The annual conventions of the body are 
too large and unwieldy for serious deliberation of issues, and 
besides those who attend are designated by their constitution 
as "messengers," not "delegates." Therefore, although Southern 


Baptists have achieved a high degree of efficiency, they have 
been no more successful than American Baptists in developing 
a system of representative government. Such centralization, 
lacking a good means for responsibility to the local churches, 
leaves a discrepancy between their practices and their avowed 
doctrines regarding the nature of the church. 


If American Baptists are to accept more fully the responsi- 
bilities of the servant role to which Christ has called his church, 
a still more adequate denominational structure is wanted. The 
question is, How can the denomination be welded into a more 
coherent body? It would be fairly easy to devise a more efficient 
system if fund-raising and numerical growth were the only 
considerations. An organizational form is needed, however, 
which will be in harmony with Baptist concepts of the church. 
Accordingly, the important place of local churches inherent in 
congregational theory ought not to be sacrificed for the pur- 
pose of attaining worldly standards of success. The problem 
for Baptists is then twofold: (1) Their organizational form 
should be able to function efficiently, and (2) the agencies, 
through which common undertakings are carried out should 
be made responsible to the churches. 

Extension of the Associational Principle 

Difficult as this problem is, we still have some guidance in 
working it out. This problem is essentially the one faced by 
early Baptists who tried to resolve the tension between the 
universal church and the local churches by the associational 
principle. Therefore, it is by an extension of this principle that 
our development could move toward a more satisfactory form. 
The path to which we are pointed by our own tradition is that 
of reviving the associations and the development of a truly 
representative system of church government. 

A larger measure of efficiency has gradually been achieved 
in the operation of the American Baptist Convention, but in the 


process there has been a tendency for power to gravitate 
toward the professional executives of the state and national 
agencies. Such a trend is natural, for these agencies have pur- 
poses which must be carried out, and the persons appointed 
as executives have responsibility to see that the work gets done. 
The reorganization plan of 1961 provided for more effective 
co-operation among the various agencies of the denomination, 
and the increased size of the General Council makes possible 
a more representative expression of opinion with regard to its 
decisions. The churches which are supposed to be the real 
source of authority, however, lack adequate channels through 
which to express their will with regard to issues and policies, 
and the national convention in the annual session is too un- 
wieldy to serve as a deliberative body. Consequently there is 
still need for better means of communication between the 
churches and their boards, divisions, and General Council. Also, 
it is necessary to define more specifically and delegate more 
formally the authority of those in executive posts, thus legiti- 
mizing for each whatever power he should rightly exercise. 
The only way in which these ends can be achieved is through 
a truly representative church polity. 

The Question of Representation 

Since the usual line of reasoning advanced by those who 
raise objections to any more coherent denominational structure 
is the appeal to "the autonomy of the local church," any system 
of representative church government must deal with this issue. 
In the first place, it is easy to see that such a phrase, em- 
phasizing the absolute independence of the local congregation, 
is a distortion of early Baptist interpretation of the independ- 
ence of the local church. As noted in Chapter I, the local 
church and the universal church were held together in theory, 
and that relationship was visibly expressed in the association. 
Therefore the expansion of the associational principle on state 
and national scales, would actually be an implementation of 


Baptist thought about the church, and not a denial of genuine 
Baptist principles. 

Secondly, although it is sometimes said that a Baptist church 
cannot be represented, this statement is contrary to historic 
Baptist teaching and practice. It is hard to find such assertions 
prior to the middle of the nineteenth century. Not until Francis 
Wayland was it said that Baptists send only messengers from 
churches to larger gatherings, and that "a Baptist church can- 
not represent itself or be represented in any other organization 
whatever." For Wayland to make such a statement, however, 
was for him to say that churches have a way of talking to- 
gether, but no real way of working together. 

Actually, the terms "delegate," "representative," and "mes- 
senger" had been used as synonyms for each other from early 
Baptist beginnings, and in practice Baptist churches had al- 
ways been represented in councils and associations. Some of 
Wayland's contemporaries were quick to point out that he was 
denying something which had been a common part of Baptist 
practice. The trouble was that Wayland failed to distinguish 
between the delegation of certain powers and the absolute sur- 
render of all the powers of the individual church. Although a 
representative body may have been given certain power to act 
for the churches, it by no means follows that such a body can 
legislate for them in all matters, nor that it can decree penalties 
for dissent. On the contrary, the whole idea of the association 
and the use of councils had been based on the assumption that 
in matters pertaining to fellowship, the council represented the 
churches in a very true sense. 

Revival of the Associations 

One important and necessary preliminary step toward the 
development of an American Baptist Convention which is a 
"responsible instrument of the churches" is the recovery of an 
associational life. It hardly seems possible to question that the 
association has been relegated to a place of insignificance in 
our present system. Many of the functions exercised by the 


association formerly are now entirely taken over by city soci- 
eties and state and national conventions. Much of our failure 
in communication from the national level down to the grass 
roots is due to the fact that the association is not utilized. 
Without real responsibilities, the associational life withers and 
becomes a shadow of something which once had a real pur- 
pose and meaning. 

Just as church fellowship becomes manifest in the intimate 
life of the congregation, so the wider fellowship and co- 
operative spirit may be expressed by associations of churches. 
Local congregations need the benefit of counsel, fellowship, 
encouragement, and co-operation of other churches, and these 
advantages can be realized more effectively through intimate 
contacts with neighboring churches than in a loose fellowship 
that attempts to be statewide or nationwide. Through local 
assemblies where persons can meet in face-to-face relationship 
as representatives of Baptist churches, the life of the churches 
may be undergirded in a way which is unavailable to isolated 
individual churches. 

To accomplish such results, many present-day associations 
would need new geographical alignments. The convenience 
of delegates in attending meetings should be an important 
factor in associational groupings. Some associations are too 
large, and others are too small; sometimes several associations 
overlap each other's territory. 

It is also important that member churches and their dele- 
gates should feel that they have significant participation in 
worthwhile tasks which the association is accomplishing. Ex- 
periments have been taking place in some parts of the country 
to revive the associational life, and they have demonstrated 
the utility of such organizations for increasing the effectiveness 
of the church life. Through the combined resources of the 
churches, help can be offered in leadership training and in the 
development of programs of Christian education. By the united 
planning and witness, the association can be effective in de- 
veloping plans for evangelism, church extension, and schools 


of missions. Strategy in dealing with the problems of the city 
and interdenominational co-operation in common interests 
could be further concerns of an association. Likewise, the sup- 
port of institutions, camping programs, and various forms of 
youth work can benefit from co-operative planning and work 
through associated churches. 

Programs on an associational level can also contribute to the 
development of better informed Christians with regard to 
political, social, and denominational matters through sponsoring 
forums and disseminating information. Ordination procedures 
are often prescribed by the associations today, but ordination 
itself could become a power of the association. The same 
body also would be able to revoke ordination, under circum- 
stances to be determined by the member churches. At present, 
Baptists are in the awkward situation of finding it almost im- 
possible to withdraw ordination from a person, no matter how 
much such action may seem warranted. At manv points the 
association could be a helpful link in interpreting and imple- 
menting the plans of their denominational agencies, The re- 
vival of association as a vital part of the life of the convention 
will encounter the inertia of several decades of drifting in the 
other direction. It would seem, however, that such a step is 
a necessary part of the process of makins; the convention 
agencies responsible to the churches which thev are supposed 
to represent. 


Ecumenical Relationships 

Up to this point, we have been largely concerned with the 
relationship of Baptists to their fellow-Baptists. Few Baptists, 
however, would contend that such a treatment is adequate for 
interpreting their part in the church of Jesus Christ in these 
closing decades of the twentieth century. The everyday lives 
of pastors and churches today continually involve contacts with 
those of other denominations. Through their response to coun- 
cils of churches, union services, evangelistic crusades, and 
other activities, Baptists again and again are determining the 
extent to which they will ( or will not ) become involved in in- 
terdenominational activities. Let us now consider the great 
movements in the Christian world which are providing the 
context in which these involvements are taking place. 


The twentieth century has witnessed a surge of interest in 
Christian unity, and this trend is commonly designated "the 
ecumenical movement." By some people this movement has 
been hailed as "the great new fact of our era," while by others 
it has been viewed with suspicion. Probably the majority of 
those at the grass-roots level of the church, however, have had 
only a hazy notion of what is meant by the term "ecumenical," 



and their attitude toward the movement has been largely one 
of indifference. 

The Term "EcumenicaF 

It is hard to see how Christians in the twentieth century 
could be hostile or indifferent to a movement of such great 
significance. In great measure both of these attitudes are due 
to a lack of information or to misinformation which is de- 
liberately spread by interested parties. The word "ecumenical" 
means essentially "world-wide," but it also signifies "oneness." 
Therefore the ecumenical movement indicates an emphasis 
upon the unity of the Christian church and the need to find 
ways in which that unity may be expressed in ministering to 
the world. It does not refer to any one particular organiza- 
tion, but to a spirit or a movement embodied in several or- 
ganizational forms. Among the most important of these are 
the World Council of Churches, the National Council of 
Churches of Christ in the United States of America, and many 
state and local councils. 

On scriptural grounds one could hardly object to any plans 
by which Christian unity might be made more visible and dif- 
ferences might be harmonized. For the essential idea of the 
church in the New Testament is a body of people united with 
Jesus Christ as its head. Although the word "church" is most 
often used in the New Testament in connection with local 
congregations, yet there is always implied the larger idea of 
"the people of God." The local group represents the total 
church of God in a particular place, but it is only part of the 
total Christian community. Jesus Christ prayed that his fol- 
lowers in generations to come might "become perfectly one" 
(John 17:23). Paul urged the Ephesians to maintain the unity 
of the Spirit, reminding them that "there is one body and one 
Spirit . . . one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father 
of us all" (Eph. 4:4-6). We have become so accustomed to 
seeing divisions within the church that we are apt to take the 
present situation as normal. It is highly doubtful that the 


writers of the New Testament would have considered it so, for 
they assumed a fundamental unity of the church. 

Nor could anyone oppose an ecumenical emphasis upon the 
grounds of Baptist history, for the early Baptists were not sec- 
tarian. Their statement of faith affirmed that "there is one holy, 
catholic church." The attitude of General Baptists was re- 
flected in their "Orthodox Creed" of 1678, the subtitle of which 
indicated that it was "an essay to unite and confirm all true 
Protestants." A nonsectarian spirit also characterized the Par- 
ticular Baptists, as is shown by their major doctrinal statement. 
Desiring to express their closeness to others, they adopted the 
Westminster Confession, which with a few alterations had 
also been used as the confessional statement of the Congrega- 
tionalists. The Baptists then made a few changes with regard 
to their doctrines of the church, baptism, the ministry, and the 
relationship of the civil government to religious matters. They 
deliberately chose to use this Presbyterian-Congregationalist 
document, in order to declare their "hearty agreement with 
them, in that wholesome Protestant doctrine, which, with so 
clear evidence of Scriptures they have asserted." 1 

Anyone familiar with the writings of Baptists in the seven- 
teenth and eighteenth centuries will realize that they were not 
sectarians; they did not believe themselves to have exclusive 
right to be called the church. They frequently asserted their 
identity as Protestants, and recognized that their fundamental 
convictions were shared by others. They felt particularly close 
to Presbyterians and Congregationalists, but as John Smyth's 
party had stated in 1612: "All penitent and faithful Christians 
are brethren in the communion of the outward church, where- 
soever they live, by what name soever they are known." 2 In 
America there were many occasions where Baptists co-operated 
with other denominations in missions to the Indians, Bible so- 
cieties, and other matters. Baptists believed that they had 

1 Lumpkin, op. cit., page 245. 

2 Ibid., page 137. 


certain convictions to preserve, but they did not pretend to 
have a monopoly on Christian truth. 

The Theory of Denominationalism 

The word "denomination" came to be applied to the diverse 
groups of Protestants in the eighteenth century. Baptists have 
referred to themselves as a denomination, implying that they 
considered themselves but a part of a larger body. "Denomina- 
tion" means simply "called by a name," and the assumption 
underlying the theory of denominationalism is that there is a 
greater unity which binds all of the diverse groups called by 
different names into one entity. It recognizes that there are 
many differences in outward forms, in worship ceremonies, and 
even in doctrinal formulations, but that there is a basic unity 
in the acknowledgement of the lordship of Christ over his 

To accept the term "denomination" presupposes several 
things. In the first place, it recognizes that in this world it is 
impossible for men to see eye-to-eye on everything. Brought up 
under different circumstances, conditioned by different ex- 
periences, men are bound to arrive at different opinions. Under 
the pressure of environmental circumstances, there will be dif- 
ferent external forms of worship and practice. To accept the 
inevitability of such differences does not lead to a conclusion 
that differences are unimportant, but it simply accepts real- 
istically the fact that there will be such variety. Because it is 
important to reach the truth as fully as possible, those who have 
different perspectives and opinions must come together to en- 
gage in dialogue with each other. Under the leading of the 
Spirit, it is to be hoped that there may be a meeting of minds, 
and that a fuller apprehension of the truth may be reached. 
Through conference, study, and prayer, the light of God's truth 
may break more fully upon men's minds. In the meantime, 
Christians must acknowledge each other as brethren, and work 
and pray together. 

Secondly, to accept the theory of denominationalism outlined 



above is to acknowledge that Christian fellowship is founded 
upon something more than agreement in doctrine. Theology 
is important, and Christianity does involve doctrines of God, 
Christ, man, sin, and salvation. However, our doctrinal formu- 
lations are affected by our experiences of God's revelation, and 
within certain limits there is room for differing viewpoints. 
Therefore, the basis of fellowship must not be simply an assent 
to a set of propositions. Fellowship has a deeper source also 
than a common set of values, for it is more than an ethical 
system. The Christian faith at its heart involves new relation- 
ships with God and with other people, and that which binds 
us together is a common experience of God's grace. It involves 
a work of the Holy Spirit in our lives by which we become new 
creatures in Christ and "members one of another," as by faith 
we accept God's gracious offer of reconciliation and power. 
With all who claim such an experience and who confess Jesus 
Christ as Savior and Lord we are bound to work and pray 
together as brothers, notwithstanding differences which may 
exist among us. 

Sometimes the unity which Christians have in Christ has 
been obscured by magnifying institutional differences. Forget- 
ting the true basis of fellowship, members of different denomi- 
national groups become so isolated from one another that they 
seem to lack any real unity. The consequence is that the world 
has often been more impressed by the divisions within the 
church than by our underlying oneness. Surely some visible 
expression ought to be given to the unity which we have, so 
that the body of Christ may not appear to be divided and at 
war within itself. 

The practical question, however, is, What form should such 
visible unity take? Should we seek to merge all Christians into 
a single Protestant body? Or, is it enough to form federations 
which provide a meeting place for representatives of the de- 
nominations to gather and channels through which they can 
co-operate? There is no unanimity of opinion among Christians 
as to the way in which we should seek to give expression to 


our unity. Whether we shall ever bring all Christians under a 
single organizational roof is doubtful, and it is questionable 
whether such an outcome would be desirable. Perhaps the 
merging of all denominations within a given nation or locality 
into one church is desirable, but there are some advantages to 
having some different denominations. If all Protestants were 
united in a single organization, we might easily become less 
self-critical. The existence of denominations serves as a check 
to the pretenses of one another, reminding us that all human 
institutions are fallible and stand under the judgment of God. 

To concede that there may be a place for denominations, 
however, should not lead to complacency about divisions which 
have no real reason for their existence. When our divisions 
rest upon barriers of race and color, social class and level of 
income, or other sociological factors, then they become reflec- 
tions of the world instead of the church. Within the Christian 
community it is the will of Christ to break down artificial bar- 
riers between men. 

On the other hand, when there are genuine insights which 
seem to be neglected by others, it may be necessary for a 
denomination to keep alive that particular emphasis. Practical 
considerations of language and geography may also provide 
justification for denominational existence, but these should not 
be perpetuated longer than they are needed. 

In short, we of the Christian church have more denomina- 
tional bodies today than are really warranted, but not so many 
meaningless divisions as many of our critics would imply. 

The Modern Ecumenical Movement 

There is today an increasing concern on the part of 
churches to find more ways in which to give visible expression 
to Christian unity. The "ecumenical movement" is the phrase 
used to describe efforts to attain such unity. Although there 
has been much complacency about our divisions in the past, 
it would be a mistake to think that the desire for the unity of 
the church is something quite new. Actually, there had been 


one church in western Europe for centuries prior to the Refor- 
mation; and when the Reformation churches became separated 
from that church, there was deep distress on the part of lead- 
ing Reformers. Martin Luther, John Calvin, and others sought 
ways of promoting reunion among Protestants and with the 
Roman Catholic Church, because unity was important to them. 
In every century since that time, there have been movements 
toward greater church unity, but the sense of need for such 
unity seems to be greater today than ever before. 

What are the reasons for the renewed emphasis upon Chris- 
tian unity? To some extent outward pressures have made the 
need for co-operation and fellowship more apparent. The 
threats of imperialistic Communism and the fear of another 
world war more terrible than any previous one have certainly 
been factors which have challenged the church. In the United 
States, the expansion of the Roman Catholic Church and its 
ability to influence government and media of communication 
have made Protestants more aware of their own weakness and 
division. More positive influences than these have also been at 
work. For one thing, the renewal of biblical studies in this 
generation has led to a clearer conception of the importance of 
the church in the purpose of God. With a deeper appreciation 
of the nature and mission of the church, the seriousness of di- 
vision has become more obvious. Moreover, the concern for 
evangelism and missions has made it imperative to present a 
more united witness to the world. Increasing secularism in 
the West and the confusion caused by divisions on mission 
fields has emphasized the need for a more persuasive witness. 

Indeed, it was on the mission fields that the need for unity 
and co-operation was felt most intensely. Here the ecumenical 
movement may be said to have been born. Early in the mis- 
sionary experience of William Carey, the Baptist founder of the 
modern missionary movement, the need for Christian co-opera- 
tion has become plain. In 1806, he proposed that a "general 
association of all denominations of Christians from the four 
quarters of the world" be held every ten years. Although his 


suggestion was not taken up at the time, the need for such 
meetings became more pressing. During the years after 1850, 
more and more regional missionary conferences were held. 
Co-operation was developed along several lines, such as joint 
translation projects, co-operative efforts in printing, sponsor- 
ship of hospitals and schools, and comity agreements to pre- 
vent wasted effort through overlapping of fields. 

It was in 1910 that a very significant missionary conference 
was held at Edinburgh, Scotland. Here, 1355 delegates repre- 
senting missionary societies from all over the world met. They 
sought to discover by consultation how the churches could 
help, instead of hampering or competing with, one another, to 
pool whatever knowledge and experience each had gained. 
Out of this conference emerged three new movements which 
paved the way for the forming of the World Council of 

The first was the International Missionary Council, formed in 
1921 in order to achieve a greater measure of practical co- 
operation among missionaries. Besides providing a small, per- 
manent organization to carry on its work continuously, it has 
held four great world conferences— at Jerusalem, in 1928; at 
Tambaram, India, in 1938; at Whitby, Canada, in 1947; and 
at Willingen, Germany, in 1952. A second movement develop- 
ing from the 1910 meeting was the Faith and Order Move- 
ment. One of the purposes of this was to explore together the 
reasons why denominations differed from each other, when 
they worshiped the same Lord and used the same Bible. Faith 
and Order held world conferences at Lausanne, Switzerland, 
in 1927 and at Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1937. The third great 
movement stemming from 1910 was the Life and Work Move- 
ment, which had a world gathering at Stockholm in 1925 and 
one at Oxford in 1937. Its purpose was to make possible co- 
operative undertakings other than missions. 

It was quite natural that these three movements, with dif- 
ferent emphases, but having many of the same people interested 
in each, should think of joining forces. Out of the meetings 


at Oxford and Edinburgh in the summer of 1937, there came a 
proposal to form a World Council of Churches through the 
merging of the Faith and Order and the Life and Work move- 
ments. Although the International Missionary Council con- 
tinued its separate existence for more than two decades, it was 
fully co-operative with the World Council of Churches and 
became a division of the larger body in 1961. 

The World Council of Churches 

Although necessary plans for organization of the World 
Council of Churches had been completed by 1939, the coming 
of World War II prevented their implementation. It was in 
1948, at Amsterdam, that this organization finally came into 
being. The constitution began with a statement which de- 
scribes the nature and basis of this council. It states: "The 
World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches which 
accept our Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour." There are 
many who criticized this statement as inadequate. It was cer- 
tainly inadequate for a full statement of doctrine, but it offered 
a minimal statement of the basis for fellowship and co-opera- 
tive work. At the third General Assembly in 1961, a revised 
statement was adopted: "The World Council of Churches is a 
fellowship of churches which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as 
God and Saviour, according to the Scriptures, and therefore 
seek to fulfill their common calling to the glory of the one God, 
Father, Son and Holy Spirit." Assuming a great deal that is not 
said, it sums up the essential elements of the Christian faith by 
its affirmation regarding Scriptures, the triune God, and Jesus 
Christ. Each term is filled with implications, and the statement 
says a great deal in a few words. 

Several useful purposes are served by the World Council of 
Churches. Carrying on the work of the earlier movements, it 
promotes biblical and theological study by interdenominational 
committees, and facilitates common undertakings. Through 
various means it seeks to encourage the development of an 


ecumenical spirit. As men and women from various back- 
grounds are brought together in study groups or for meetings 
on various matters, they become more aware of their kinship 
in Christ. Valuable books and pamphlets have been published 
through commissions of the council, and mutual understand- 
ing among Christian communions has been fostered. Listed 
among their objectives is also: "To support the churches in 
their task of evangelism." 

The work of the World Council is carried on through ( 1 ) an 
assembly made up of delegates from all member churches and 
(2) a central committee of about ninety members which 
meets each year. There are also several special commissions 
and committees which have permanent staff members, enabling 
the work to be prosecuted without loss of continuity. Special 
committees also sponsor theological studies, keep abreast of 
international affairs and encourage an informed Christian con- 
science at points of tension, provide aid to refugees and furnish 
a channel through which churches may give relief to distressed 
areas, help interested young people find opportunities for ecu- 
menical education abroad, and stimulate interest in evangelism 
and numerous other practical matters. 

Some of the projects in which the agencies of the World 
Council have taken a part are the relocation of refugees, 
ministry to prisoners-of-war, relief work, and emergency aid 
around the world to those hit by floods, earthquakes, and other 
disasters. In cases where religious persecution has occurred, 
the World Council has sometimes been able to speak in a help- 
ful way. When four Baptist pastors were tried in Czecho- 
slovakia, the Baptist World Alliance was looked upon with 
suspicion by the governments concerned, but the World Coun- 
cil was able to take action. 

It is sometimes claimed that the World Council of Churches 
is seeking to bring about a great super-church. Although some 
individuals doubtless desire such an outcome, a majority is 
definitely opposed to such an aim. The official report of the 
first Assembly said, "The Council disavows any thought of be- 


coming a single unified church structure." The World Council 
seeks to cultivate a deeper sense of Christian unity, to make it 
possible to co-operate in many areas where a single denomina- 
tion could not effectively operate, and to encourage Christians 
to fulfill their mission under God more faithfully. Feeling 
deeply the need for our unity to become visible, the council 
tries to be an agency through which that unity can be ex- 
pressed. It is not always easy to forget differences, and there 
are many forces including misunderstanding and ignorance 
which work against this co-operative work. However, there is 
a determination to overcome obstacles for Christ's sake. As the 
Message of the first Assembly said: "Here at Amsterdam we 
have committed ourselves afresh to Him, and have covenanted 
with one another in constituting this World Council of 
Churches. We intend to stay together." 

The National Council of Churches 

In addition to the World Council of Churches for co-opera- 
tion on a worldwide scope, there are agencies particularly de- 
voted for co-operative Christian work on national and regional 
levels. For Americans, the chief means through which inter- 
denominational Protestantism can be expressed is the National 
Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of 
America. Organized in 1950, it was the heir of a number of 
earlier movements, particularly the Federal Council of 
Churches. In the face of complex problems, a growing Protes- 
tantism had previously sought new ways of co-operating in 
evangelism, missions, and Christian education in the latter part 
of the nineteenth century. Among these earlier interdenomina- 
tional organizations were the Y.M.C.A., the Y.W.C.A., the 
International Society of Christian Endeavor, the Evangelical 
Alliance, the Uniform Lesson plan, the World's Student Chris- 
tian Federation, and various others. In 1908 the Federal Coun- 
cil of Churches was constituted and became the main channel 
for co-operative work. At the same time there were other sepa- 
rate agencies in which Protestants co-operated for special pur- 


poses, such as the Foreign Missions Council of North America, 
the Home Missions Council of North America, the Interna- 
tional Council of Religious Education, the Missionary Educa- 
tion Movement of the U.S. and Canada, the National Protestant 
Council of Higher Education, and the United Stewardship 

In 1950, the Federal Council and most of the special-pur- 
pose organizations were merged into the National Council of 
the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. The 
preamble states the basis of the new organization as fol- 
lows: "In the Providence of God, the time has come when it 
seems fitting more fully to manifest oneness in Jesus Christ as 
Divine Lord and Savior, by the creation of an inclusive co- 
operative agency of the Christian churches of the United States 
of America to continue and extend the following general 
agencies of the churches and to combine all their interests and 
functions." Its purpose is much like that of the World Council 
of Churches, but carried out on a different level. In continuing 
the work of the Foreign Missions Council and the Home Mis- 
sions Council, it provides a useful means of exchanging infor- 
mation and co-ordinating activities of the many denomina- 
tions. Through a commission it calls together representatives 
of the churches to plan the Uniform Lessons for Sunday church 
schools. Many practical interests are served through the chan- 
nels afforded by the agencies of this interdenominational or- 
ganization. Although there is no integral connection between 
the N.C.C.C. and the W.C.C., one of the purposes of the 
former is "to maintain fellowship and co-operation with the 
World Council of Churches and with other international 
Christian organizations." At the same time it maintains close 
working relationships with the many local councils of churches 
over the United States and Canada, as well as with similar 
councils of churches in other countries. 

While there may be actions of the N.C.C.C. which are 
open to criticism, the council itself is of such obvious value 
that it deserves the full support of Baptists. With the large 


number of denominations existing in the United States, there 
is bound to be duplication of effort and sometimes rivalries 
which are inimical to the cause of Christ. The council helps 
to reduce these unfortunate factors. At many points, it can 
provide channels of co-operation and communication, and 
make it possible for certain tasks to be done together which 
would not be done at all without such co-operation. The very 
nature of the church as one under Christ demands that where 
the branches of the church can work together they should do 

State Councils of Churches 

Many of the ecumenical concerns of the various denomina- 
tions can better be expressed through state-wide co-operation 
than through the National or World Council. Therefore there 
is a significant need for the various state councils of churches, 
most of which have a longer history than either of the larger 
bodies. As a rule, state council memberships are comprised of 
two classes of Christian organizations operating in the state, 
(1) local councils of churches and (2) denominational bodies. 

Typical of the work of a state council are activities such as 
the following: Legislative seminars and action at the state 
capital; ministry to migrant workers; chaplaincy at state mental, 
penal, and welfare institutions; special emphasis on the rural 
ministry within the state; programs of Christian education 
which can best be conducted on a broader basis than the local 
council or specific denomination (such as weekday religious 
education); and state-wide meetings by such council-related 
groups as United Church Women and United Church Men. 

Local Councils of Churches 

The point at which most churches feel closest to the ecu- 
menical movement is the city or county council of churches. 
It is here that the individual Baptist can find fellowship with 
persons of other denominations as all work together on projects 
of local interest which Cut across denominational lines. 


Practical matters such as leadership training schools, united 
stewardship or canvass programs, community, religious census 
efforts, effective use of radio and television faculties, and area- 
wide evangelistic crusades are natural concerns of a local coun- 
cil. In addition, it may sponsor United Christian Youth rallies, 
and may help to co-ordinate the work of United Church 
Women or United Church Men. Special events, such as a Ref- 
ormation Sunday preaching service, a choir festival in the 
spring, or a training session for vacation church school workers, 
also help to meet a need in the community for united witness 
and work in Christ's behalf which it would be difficult if not 
impossible to accomplish in any other way. 

Baptist Relationships to Ecumenical Bodies 

The American Baptist and two National Baptist conventions 
are members of both the National and World Councils. In 
England, the Baptists are members likewise of both the 
British Council of Churches and the World Council. Because 
sizable minorities are opposed to such participation, American 
Baptists do not support these movements by contributions 
from the regular funds of the denomination. Gifts can be made 
only out of money designated specifically for that purpose. 
Since 1960, when certain American Baptist churches raised ob- 
jections against the N.C.C.C., any church wishing to register 
dissent against co-operation with that body may have its name 
so listed in the published Annual. 

Unlike the other major Baptist conventions, Southern Bap- 
tists are not affiliated with either of these organizations. They 
did co-operate in the Home Missions Council and the Foreign 
Missions Conference of North America for many years. They 
severed ties after 1950 when these organizations merged with 
the National Council of the Churches of Christ. Although a sub- 
stantial minority favors a co-operative relationship with these 
larger fellowships, there is strong official disapproval of such 
connections. Nevertheless, some of the work of National 
Council agencies is of such utility that some Southern Baptists 


participate in them as unofficial observers and through personal 

With regard to state and local councils, there is some 
difference in attitude. In general Baptists co-operate more 
freely in these than in the National or World Council. Prob- 
ably the reason for this condition is that the need for co- 
operative efforts is more evident on this level. Through such 
means they can co-operate in providing new churches for 
growing communities, and can better attack the problems of 
the inner city where Protestants have been losing ground. 
Through councils of churches they have taken part in inter- 
denominational evangelistic efforts, and have united in sup- 
porting or opposing legislation pertaining to questions of re- 
ligious and moral significance. Such problems as juvenile de- 
linquency, racial tensions, and the sale of obscene literature 
are also dealt with more effectively by a united Christian 
witness than by individual churches or denominations. 


In addition to agencies for interdenominational co-operation, 
there are also channels through which various Baptist groups 
work together. In the United States are at least twenty-seven 
different Baptist denominational bodies. The largest of these 
are the Southern Baptist Convention, the National Baptist Con- 
vention, U.S.A., Inc., the National Baptist Convention of Amer- 
ica, and the American Baptist Convention. The other twenty- 
three are smaller, varying in membership from about 250,000 to 
as few as 50. There are also numerous Baptist groups in other 
countries around the world. In order to help maintain some 
sense of their common identity, to assist one another, and to 
co-operate in some mutual tasks, there are various agencies 
through which they work. 

The Baptist World Alliance 

Baptist people in all parts of the Christian world are united 
under the banner of the Baptist World Alliance. Organized 


in 1905 in London, it usually convenes at five-year intervals. 
Its purpose is stated in the preamble to the constitution of the 
Alliance: "The Baptist World Alliance, extending over every 
part of the world, exists in order more fully to show the es- 
sential oneness of Baptist people in the Lord Jesus Christ, to 
impart inspiration to the brotherhood, and to promote the 
spirit of fellowship, service and co-operation among its mem- 
bers; but this Alliance may in no way interfere with the in- 
dependence of the churches or assume the administrative func- 
tions of existing organizations." In its purpose of imparting 
inspiration through the infrequent meetings, and in affording 
links by which the sense of fellowship between Baptists can 
be strengthened, the Alliance has been most useful. At some 
points it has helped to safeguard and promote full religious 
liberty in places around the world where such liberty has been 
denied or threatened. With a minimum staff of permanent 
workers, it cannot accomplish much beyond these things. How- 
ever, it is of value for these contributions. 3 

Other Co-operative Agencies 

There are other Baptist agencies through which certain ac- 
tivities can be co-ordinated. In the United States, the most 
important organization is probably the Baptist Joint Committee 
on Public Affairs. Most Baptist bodies in this country are 
members of this enterprise, which is administered through a 
small permanent staff located in Washington, D. C. Through 
a periodical called Report from the Capital, it disseminates 
information concerning laws which have been introduced or 
passed which have some bearing upon religious matters. Its 
major concern is to note points at which the cherished Baptist 
view of religious liberty and the constitutional guarantee of 
separation of church and state seem to be threatened. 

In 1959, a co-operative venture in evangelism was launched 
by the Baptists of North America. Called the Baptist Jubilee 

3 For a history of the Baptist World Alliance, see F. Townley Lord, 
Baptist World Fellowship. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1955. 


Advance, it aimed at a five-year emphasis upon evangelism, 
and it was climaxed by a joint meeting of the co-operating 
conventions in 1964. The co-operation in this venture was 
limited largely to simultaneous emphases upon evangelism; for 
each group carried out its own program, and methods differed 
greatly. Indeed, enthusiasm for co-operation between Southern 
Baptist Convention and American Baptist Convention in this 
undertaking was somewhat dampened by the fact that South- 
ern Baptists were at the same time establishing churches in all 
of the states, sometimes acting competitively in a manner 
which ignored the presence of other Baptists in a given area. 

Need for Further Co-operation 

There is need for greater .co-operation and co-ordination of 
work among Baptists in America, but the individualism of Bap- 
tists has opposed the development of better integration of 
activities. Since there are no longer any territorial limits 
recognized by either Southern or American Baptists, some 
means of achieving closer co-operation between the two bodies 
should be effected. While there were geographical boundaries 
within which each worked, there was some justification for 
continuing as separate conventions. Since all comity agree- 
ments have been repudiated and both have churches in the 
same territories, and sometimes within the same communities, 
unfortunate competition is inevitable even with the best of 
intentions. Moreover, the nature of Christian unity and the 
practical needs of the Negro Baptist conventions need the 
encouragement and support of their white brethren which 
could come with merger or closer co-operation. 

The four largest Baptist conventions are already large and 
unwieldy, and the continuing expansion of Southern Baptists 
makes theirs increasingly so: Annual assemblies are too large 
for anything but inspiration and the dissemination of informa- 
tion, and no plan has been developed for representative meet- 
ings where decisions can be made. This condition leaves 
policy-making completely in the hands of executive groups 


with inadequately-defined authority. Merging any of the major 
Baptist bodies would, therefore, make them even more un- 
manageable than they are at present. 

If a representative system of government could be adopted, 
however, there would be a possibility of having both efficiency 
and responsible church government. Such a merging of Bap- 
tists is unlikely in the foreseeable future, but it may come 
eventually. For the present the most realistic possibility is the 
formation of the proposed North American Baptist Fellowship. 
Through such an organization, Baptists could study their com- 
mon objectives and examine the meaning of Baptist identity. 
They could work together in common tasks, lending aid to one 
another and seeking to mitigate points of tension and compe- 
tition. For the various Baptist conventions to continue the 
present trend toward occupying the same geographical areas, 
yet remaining in virtual isolation from each other, would be a 
tacit denial of the importance of the name Baptist. 

The forces at work in the world today in opposition to the 
Christian church are formidable. A fragmented Christian wit- 
ness will be impotent to cope with secularizing tendencies or 
to win back lost segments of the population to Jesus Christ. 
Once more we must hear with seriousness the question, "Is 
Christ divided?" and answer it with a resounding no! That 
answer must come not only in words, but in deeds which 
demonstrate the unity of Christians of all denominations 
through worshiping and witnessing together. 

For Further Reading 

Barnes, William Wright, The Southern Baptist Convention. 

Nashville: Broadman Press, 1954. 
Hill, Samuel S., Jr., and Robert G. Torbet, Baptists — North and 

South. Valley Forge: The Judson Press, 1964. Paperback. 
Hudson, Winthrop S., ed., Baptist Concepts of the Church. 

Valley Forge: The Judson Press, 1959. 
Hudson, Winthrop S., Baptist Convictions. Valley Forge: The 

Judson Press, 1963. Paperback. 
Lumpkin, William L., Baptist Confessions of Faith. Valley 

Forge: The Judson Press, 1959. 
Maring, Norman H., and Winthrop S. Hudson, A Baptist 

Manual of Polity and Practice. Valley Forge: The Judson 

Press, 1963. (The present volume, A Short Baptist 

Manual, is a condensation of this book. ) 
Torbet, Robert G., The Baptist Story. Valley Forge: The 

Judson Press, Revised 1965. Paperback. 
Torbet, Robert G., A History of the Baptists. Valley Forge: 

The Judson Press, Revised 1963. 

(In addition, it will be helpful to study the yearbooks of the 
Baptist conventions with which the reader's church is 
affiliated. ) 



Advisory Council, 78, 80-82 

Amending constitution, 25 

American Baptist Convention, 41, 118- 

120, 128-134, 135-139 
Associational principle, 106, 121-123, 

Associations of churches, 11, 23, 25, 

105-117, 137-139 
Auditing committee, 79 
Authoritv in local church, 17, 30, 53, 

73, 81-82 

Baldwin, Thomas, 124 
Baptism, 9-10, 29, 41-45, 57, 87-94 
Baptist Youth Fellowship, 80 
Baptist Joint Committee on Public 

Affairs, 77, 155 
Baptist Jubilee Advance, 155-156 
Baptist World Alliance, 154-155 
Baptists, 7-12 

Barnes, William W., 121 fn 
Board of Christian Education, 73-75 
Bunyan, John, 43 

Call to the ministry, 60-61 

Calling a pastor, 24-25 

Calvin, John, 52 fn 

Candidates for baptism, 27-29 

Carey, William, 146 

Christian Social Concern, 77 

Christian vocation, 36-37, 50-53 

Church, 7-25 

Church clerk, 68 

Church completed, 21, 46 

Church councils, 113-114 

Church essential, 21 

Church letters, 27, 38 

Church meeting, 13-21 

Church membership, 26-45, 37, 93 

Church offices, 46-82 
Church school superintendent, 69 
Communications committee, 77-78 
Communion — see Lord's Supper 
Congregational approval of new mem- 
bers, 30 
Constituting local churches, 21-25, 115- 

Constitution for local church, 22, 23 
Councils of churches, 148-154 
Covenants, 22, 23, 31-32, 97 

Deacons, 48, 49, 69-72, 80-81 
Denominational affiliation, 24 
Denominational schools, 132 
Denominations, 143-145 
Discipleship classes, 28-29 

Ecumenical movement, 140-154 
Edwards, Morgan, 121 
Elders, 46, 48, 49 
Evangelism, 75-76 
Exclusion of members, 39 

Finance committee, 79 
Financial secretary, 68-69 
Fuller, Andrew, 88 

Gathered churches, 10 
General Council, 133 

Hand of fellowship, 30 
Hudson, W. S., 125 fn 

Immersion — see Baptism 
Inactive members, 39 
Independence of churches, 108, 120 
Infant dedication, 91 
Interdependence of churches, 106 




Judson, Adoniram, 122 

Keach, Benjamin, 31 

Laity, 36 

Lay preacher, 65-66 

License to preach, 62 

Local churches, 12-25, 46-82, 108, 120, 

Lord's Supper, 57, 84-87, 94-104 
Luther, Martin, 53 

Manning, James, 121 

Membership committee ( Deacons ) , 

Men's Fellowship, 80 
Ministerial education, 59 
Missions committees, 76-77 
Moderator, 18-19, 67-68 
Music committee, 78 

National societies, 127 
Nominating committee, 78 

Open membership, 39-45 
Ordinances — see Baptism, Lord's Sup- 
Ordination, 60-64, 114-115 
Organization of local churches, 46-82 

Pastoral office, 18-19, 46-47, 54-68 

Payne, Ernest A., 106 fn 

Philadelphia Baptist Association, 107- 

Philadelphia Baptist Confession, 46, 65, 

Power of an association, 108-109 
Priesthood of believers, 50-53 
Pulpit committee, 79 

Reception of members, 27 
Regenerate church, 9-10, 26-27, 43-44 
Representative church government, 

Responsibilities of church members, 

Rice, Luther, 122-123 
Rules of order, 18-21 

Sacrament, 83 

Smyth, John, 142 

Society method, 122-127 

Southern Baptist Convention, 28, 119, 

State convention constitutions, 125, 

State secretary, 66 
Sunday church school, 69, 73-75 
Symbols, 84-87 

Termination of membership, 38-39 
Treasurer, 68 

Triennial Convention, 123-127 
Trustees, 72-73 

Ushering committee, 78-79 

Wayland, Francis L., 114, 137 
Woman's Societv, 80 
Worship, 56-57' 



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